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When Albany, New York, resident Cindee Lolik was job-hunting out west in 2010 she arranged for interviews in Corvallis and Port Townsend, Washington.

The experience here proved to be so positive that Lolik canceled the trip to Port Townsend.

“I liked the size of the town,” Lolik said. “It had a thriving downtown. I felt comfortable. This looked like a good place to be.”

Lolik took the job as general manager of the First Alternative Co-Op, moving here from a position with the Honest Weight Food Co-op. She said she "fell into the natural foods industry" in the 1970s in Boulder, Colorado, and has been involved ever since.

The Corvallis co-op is an institution that will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. From a small storefront on Fourth Street the co-op has grown to include stores on South Third Street and one on Northwest Grant Avenue. It has 157 employees, more than 65 of which are full-timers, and its membership list has grown to 11,000.

“People are the heart of the co-op,” Lolik said. “We focus on the customer experience in the store. We have the products they want and we spend time with folks who have questions on those products. We want to make their shopping trips as friendly and as exciting as we can make it.

“And we care for the community. I’m on a lot of boards and I’m willing to sit down with folks any time.”

Lolik and the co-op were tested last winter when the men’s cold weather homeless shelter was located at the old Hanson Tire Factory across the street from the south store. The Corvallis Police Department answered 32 calls from the co-op during the five-month season, with key problems being theft, disturbances in the parking lot and a decline in co-op café dinner customers because shelter clients were hanging out waiting for the shelter to open.

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Lolik said that she did not raise concerns last season because “it was supposed to be a one-and-done” at the Hanson site. But the roiling community debate on the issue ultimately led to Hanson being used for the shelter this season as well. The shelter is scheduled to operate from Nov. 1 through March 31.

“I think that calls will be reduced this year,” said Lolik, who noted that a key change in the planned shelter operation for this season is the addition of an area on the Hanson site where clients can “hang out” before the shelter opens at 7 p.m.

“We’re in a good position,” she said. “We have open lines of communication and we have established a pretty good relationship with” shelter operators and the police.

“Homelessness is not a problem that is going away. It seems like it’s getting worse, not only here, but across the country. We want all of our neighbors to be taken care of. Just because they don’t have a home doesn’t mean they aren’t our neighbors.”

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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