Carbondale’s Dandelion Market cuts general manager, faces grim prospects
Carbondale’s Dandelion Market appears to be teetering on the brink, as the board has been forced to let general manager Katrina Byars go and is weighing further downsizing.
Alongside its financial deterioration, Dandelion Market has also been on the hunt for a new home since it found out that its lease won’t be renewed. Its move-out date is July 1, but the co-op’s financial struggles are so severe that the board is assessing whether the doors need to be closed in the coming weeks.
Leading up to her dismissal, Byars had been working for about five weeks without pay.
“It’s been clear that we are not at a point where we can afford to pay her, so we needed to downsize the staff,” said Erica Sparhawk, one of the co-op’s two remaining board members.
“We’re still assessing how many employees need to be laid off,” said Sparhawk. “We’re planning now, and so I don’t have good answers for what people can expect to see in the future.”
To some degree it was an act of kindness, “because I would have stayed until the end,” said Byars. Still, she plans to stick around to volunteer at the market to continue trying to get the co-op back on its feet.
Vacant space in Carbondale has, of course, been hard to find. The board must assess what kind of risk it’s taking on with such a move, shifting away from the pedestrian traffic in downtown.
The board is considering a couple of locations on Colorado 133, but Byars said both of those properties would cost nearly double in rent.
“It’s been so tight that it’s hard to imagine moving into a smaller space for more money,” she said.
In all likelihood, the organization is going to have to scale down and take a different form.
Byars said the co-op could become a nonprofit, or it could be a buyers’ club combined with a grocery delivery club.
“It’s been clear for a long time that whatever goes forward has to be a different model to be sustainable,” she said.
Dandelion Market has been Carbondale’s key distribution point for local food and a key supporter of local agriculture. So whatever model it assumes should keep those goals intact, said Byars.
Sparhawk said she can’t give any updated hard numbers on the co-op’s financial picture, as a couple of finance-minded volunteers are still trying to get the books caught up after bills and vendors went unpaid for months at the end of last year.
At the beginning of March, the co-op’s board disclosed the organization’s financial situation after dwindling stock on the shelves became obvious and speculation was growing among the membership.
Sparhawk said they are assessing what the maximum number of labor hours the co-op can pay for while also paying rent and utilities.
In a survey of the membership, a lot of members said they would be willing to donate money to ensure survival of the market, she said, adding that the co-op has a handful of members who could make substantial donations.
“Some folks really feel strongly that having a local food market in Carbondale is part of what makes this a great community,” she said. Some of them have approached the board about pooling funds from a number of individuals for a no-interest loan for the market.
“We’re trying to do a lot with little time,” said Sparhawk.
And by “we,” she means herself and one other person on the board. When the Post Independent last wrote about the Dandelion Market, its board, which is supposed to have a minimum of five members, was down to three. Now it’s down to two: Sparhawk and the newly appointed board member Richard Votero.
Though the market enjoys support from a 600-person membership, that has not translated into members volunteering for the board.
“We don’t even have someone to break a tie vote at this point. So the members are relying heavily on two of us to make really important decisions about the future of the co-op.”
Sparhawk is hoping to appoint a third interested person, Shana Miller, at the board’s next meeting.
“Even though people are really invested, there are so many volunteer boards in Carbondale [around 60 or more] that our community maxes out its volunteer time,” said Byars. And at the same time, it’s a hard sale to get board members for a struggling organization, she said.
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