by Alex Gyori
1993 was a good year for the Brattleboro Food Co-op. It was the year in which Dick Ernst showed up on our doorstep and convinced us of his potential as the Co-op’s first operations manager. Twenty-two years later, after a lively and productive career at BFC, his course is set for retirement. As to his promise of being an essential asset to the organization, he did not disappoint. Before telling that tale, though, let us take a moment to look at his story outside the Co-op.
Dick grew up in Springfield, MA’s Forest Park area. He received his B.A. in Psychology and then a business-focused M.A. in Public Administration. After a short stint as a health worker he joined the U.S. Navy, and served with the Cruiser-Destroyer Force in San Diego, CA. Subsequently, he worked a variety of jobs, including retail store manager for a drugstore chain, thirteen years as innkeeper of the Old Tavern at Grafton, and a brief time as a hospitality director at Okemo. No doubt, all of these work experiences prepared him well for the surprising and endless variety of tasks at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.
While settling into his new duties at BFC, he and his talented and accomplished wife Carolynn were raising three wonderful children, all now married and creating Dick and Carolynn’s next vocation—grandparenting. Making the rounds to see the grandchildren may be another challenge, involving a bit of a commute, but Dick is well habituated to spending significant time behind the steering wheel. In his first years working here in Brattleboro he commuted daily from Chester, VT, and now makes the trek from the shores of a scenic lake near Dublin, NH.
Being the man of many talents that he is, he shortens his long commutes by singing! Dick has a wonderful voice that he has nurtured over the years through involvement in community choruses, barbershop groups and quartets, and any other singing activity that he manages to squeeze into his schedule. Employee holiday events were significantly enriched whenever he joined in the karaoke!
Dick’s first major assignment for the Co-op was the 1997 expansion into the 4,500 square feet of the former Blue Dog video space. This was a massive project that involved the fit up of the added area as well as a comprehensive renovation of the rest of the store. Dick orchestrated the constant coordination needed to keep the store running during the six months of construction activity. Who can forget the frequent customer question, “Where are the coffee bins today?” Dick guided the sometimes anxious seekers quickly to their destination!
Dick and I often joke about the “Rube Goldberg” caper, code name for the short-term and sometimes hilarious solutions to problems that have kept the store running till the repair people arrive. These remedies often employed sophisticated tools such as coat hangers, duct tape, or WD-40. Such creative interactions have been among the many enjoyable aspects of my own working relationship with Dick.
Although keeping the physical plant running absorbed a lot of his time, Dick was also very involved in the retail functions. In his early years on the job, he supervised three retail departments—cheese, beer & wine, and wellness—effectively supporting the three categories for many years until a store manager was hired to coordinate all the retail sales operations in 2008. At that point the redevelopment project was getting under way, and Dick’s focus again shifted to the complex tasks of that ambitious undertaking. As the primary representative of the Co-op, he met each week with the construction team to monitor progress and solve problems. It was an assignment well-suited to Dick’s attention to detail.
As the project wound down, in the summer of 2012 Dick was promoted to store manager, and took over the increased responsibility fully by the beginning of 2013. His new job description encompassed all the retail departments except the Deli, but at the end of the following summer budgetary constraints led to Dick’s having to take back most of the facility’s responsibilities and letting go of supervising the Front End (cashier and customer service desk staff). It has been a herculean task to try to support the retail departments while dealing with the never-ending equipment, custodial, and security issues. For the record, everyone gets involved in these situations, but in the end, Dick often has to apply the finishing touches. Keeping things going has been quite stressful at times, but he has always been ready and willing.
Dick will leave us as of March 6. When you see him, take a moment to express your appreciation for all he has done for the Co-op. We wish him many, many years of enjoyment and happiness.