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Luskin: Owning Grief

08/16/11 7:55AM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) For commentator Deborah Luskin, being a member of the Brattleboro Co-op has taken on new - and profound - meaning.

(LUSKIN) I became a working member of the Brattleboro Food Coop in 1985, when it was just ten years old and located in a small, dingy, warehouse. Since then, the Co-op has grown and moved to a larger store, which itself is slated for demolition as soon as the new LEEDS-certified building now under construction is finished.

The Co-op is member-owned. This means it operates for the benefit of its members, and this makes it so much more than just a store. It's a community, a community where shoppers not only select foodstuffs, but also meet friends and gather information and news. There's a joke amongst us regulars, that we should wear signs that read "Just Shopping" when we're in a rush, because happenstance conversations occur in every aisle, often preceded or followed by deliberate appointments to meet friends in the Co-op's café.

The Co-op is also member-governed. This business model has created an unusual culture of civility and community. It's probably one of the reasons there are so many long-time employees. I know a few who've been working there for the twenty-six years I've been a member, and many others who've come since - and stayed.

This consistency of the staff has further nurtured the strong sense of community among members, as has the Co-op's dedication to sustainability and nourishment.

For many who live in and around Brattleboro, the Co-op is the hub of our downtown.

It has been such a successful business, that members have regularly helped capitalize building projects. During one such fund-drive, we were issued bumper stickers that read, "We Own It!"

So now it's hard to describe the shockwave that swept through our membership last week when we heard the news about the shooting death of Michael Martin.

Michael had been the general manager for about four years. Richard Gagnon, who's been accused of the crime, had been employed at the Co-op for nearly twenty.

Like many shareholders, I didn't know Michael, whose relatively short tenure and managerial position kept him mostly behind the scenes. But Richard has been a familiar face in the store for a long time. As manager of the beer and wine department, which is located at the entrance to the store, he was often the first employee a shopper saw. And now he's not there.

Never has it been clearer to me that when a crime is committed, there is never just one victim.

At the vigil held the day after the shooting, hundreds of people showed up to mourn not just the dead man, but also the accused shooter, and our own sense of overwhelming loss. As a co-op we believe in finding strength in numbers, and we're now looking for ways to support one another in our complex grief. Just as we own the Co-op together, we now have to come to terms with this dark event together, so we can move back into light and life.

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