by John Hatton
It’s hard to know where to start talking about Alex Gyori, whose last official day, after 33 years at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, is June 30. Alex started in 1982 as a coordinator, back when BFC had collective management. Alex was hired as the Co-op’s first General Manager in 1986. “I didn’t really want to manage,” says Alex.
“I waited two months and finally submitted an application at the very last minute before the deadline.” Since then, Alex has been the General Manager through thick and thin, and has never wavered in his dedication to the Co-op and the community that he serves.
When he started at the Co-op, BFC was doing about $600,000 in total annual volume. Now, the Co-op’s projected volume for this fiscal year is almost $20,000,000! In those early days, the Co-op had a break-even philosophy, which ultimately would have proven unsustainable. BFC had five staff members back then, and over the years has employed almost 1,000 (!) people—we currently have around 160 workers. The Co-op’s turnover rate used to be high, peaking at 64 percent, until the management team instituted the livable wage structure that is still in place, and turnover went down to its current level of 12 to 19 percent, well below the grocery industry average of 50 percent. Interestingly, the livable wage program also has helped the Co-op be more efficient, as more staff members work full time rather than part time, which gives more continuity in getting the work done.
In a 2004 interview for Food for Thought, Alex was portrayed as being “committed to social justice, obsessed with fairness, and striv[ing] to help people build on their strengths.”
Okay, here are five things you probably don’t know about Alex Gyori:
1. Alex was a pitcher on a college baseball intramural team, had a wicked arm, and still does, in fact! A very competitive athlete, Alex played on the Co-op’s softball team, and was the only player to play every position on the field in a single season—and he played them all competently!
2. Alex was a teacher for many years before coming to Vermont. He taught English as a Second Language in Australia for about seven years, and English as a Foreign Language in Paris. He was a high school teacher from 1967 to 70. Alex graduated from the University of Dayton, majoring in French and Russian, and spent a year at the Sorbonne, earning his Masters in 17th- and 18th-century French literature.
3. Alex knows ten languages, most recently having learned Gaelic. He loves connecting with Co-op shoppers who speak French, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, mainly unprintable words in Polish, and more—few people speak Latin at this point, but he’s ready for them too! Alex plans to learn Mandarin Chinese and Arabic next, but he hasn’t decided on which to pursue first.
4. Alex won the CCMA (Consumer Cooperative Management Association) Howard Bowers Cooperative Service award in 2003. Under his management, our Co-op received the award for Cooperative Excellence in 1996. And in March, at the 2015 NFCA (Neighboring Food Co-op Association) Annual Meeting, Hunger Mountain Coop General Manager Kari Bradley announced the establishment of the Neighboring Co-operator Award, which acknowledges “special contributions to the advancement of our vision and of the wider Co-operative Movement in our region.” The first annual award was presented to Alex Gyori, a founding board member of the NFCA, for “his vision and dedication to making the Neighboring Food Co-op Association a reality."
5. Both of Alex’s children, Sasha and Liam, were home births, and Alex caught them both!
What many of you may already know about Alex is that he’s a sci-fi junkie, especially for Doctor Who. And most important: Alex is happily married to Dawne, his long-time friend and partner; they live in Westminster, where he enjoys vegetable gardening and building stone walls.
What has Alex liked the best about managing the Brattleboro Food Co-op? “I like that I have shared values with the co-op community. I enjoy people and very much appreciate my co-workers, who work hard to provide goods and service to our community. And I loved Karen Murphy’s challah, which she used to bring to our Annual Meeting potlucks.”
We’ll all miss Alex at the Brattleboro Food Co-op. He has been a significant leader, both for us locally and for the cooperative movement nationally.