by the West End Well's Board of Directors
We are writing this article in a time of uncertainty. As many people know, after months of making adjustments and seeking advice, the Board of Directors concluded that the West End Well's business model (including the grocery store and café) wasn't financially viable.
This venture failed for many reasons. Among them were financial setbacks we hadn't anticipated: a much-delayed opening, a terrible winter, and very slow sales since then. These challenges reduced our runway significantly, and we simply didn't have enough capital to remain open through another unpredictable, low-sale winter.
At this point, it would have been tempting to just dissolve the co-op and move on. However, several reasons led us to try and find other avenues. There is still a collective will and desire to see this project succeed. The community, which includes individual members, local businesses, like-minded organizations and the media, has always been very supportive of the West End Well, believing the Well was answering a true need.
The incredibly positive energy that this project generated did not disappear, even after we closed the grocery and café. Business, finance, and retail experts -- who have generously and collaboratively shared their insights with us from the beginning -- are still interested in helping us find the right business model. Producers still see the value of having a place that brings together nutritious, local, sustainable food, as well as a community. Our social programs, fundraisers, and outreach initiatives also made a difference in the neighborhood. Wouldn't it be nice if this could all continue?
Many of our members also encouraged us to persevere. Events like the Brewmaster's Dinners and other community suppers consistently drew crowds of aficionados. Something happened at these suppers. It was not just the great food and drinks. It was a very intangible yet very real sense that "this is what the Well is about" -- people coming together at a table, sharing food and stories, and becoming quick friends with strangers, feeling a true, deep sense of togetherness. That feeling doesn't automatically translate into financial success, unfortunately, but that is no reason to let it slip away.
So, what's next? The short answer is: We don't know.
What we do know is that we need time to figure out whether we can re-emerge in a form that is viable and still consistent with our vision and values. Our first step will be finding tenants to take over the grocery and café space. We recently released an RFP (request for proposal) calling on social entrepreneurs in the Ottawa/Gatineau region. Having tenants will provide us with the time and space we need to explore different scenarios, assess their value and, if things go well, re-emerge when the time is right -- in the right form.
In the upcoming months, we will remain connected to our members through our newsletter, members' meetings, and community gatherings. Members will be part of the re-imagining process, as will other stakeholders.
What does a future West End Well look like? We don't know yet, and we are comfortable with not knowing. Why? Because we want to remain open to possibilities. We want to cultivate ideas and relationships. We need to think about what already exists and consider teaming up with others. We are open to new partnerships, new ways of doing business, and new ways of fostering a vibrant community.
Most of all, we want to have the time and space to pay attention to what emerges.
For more information, visit our active website at www.westendwell.ca, or email
to support the West End Well.
The PERC thanks the above organizations for their support.
Thank you to Sustainable Eastern Ontario, the Community Foundation of Ottawa, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for sponsoring the Winter 2015-2016 edition of the PEN.