Luskin: Owning Grief

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For commentator Deborah Luskin, being a member of the Brattleboro
Co-op has taken on new – and profound – meaning.

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

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

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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