By Cristin Burns, Project Manager
I can’t help but feel sentimental as I reflect back on the past year and a half of expansion planning and construction. Renovating the store while remaining open was an enormous undertaking. This entire process has been a very interesting journey for everyone involved. When I accepted the project manager position I didn’t quite know what to expect. It has been a huge learning process, one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. I’m very grateful for the learning opportunity, getting to meet so many genuinely nice people, and for the mad skills that I now posses—watch out installers of the world, Cristin knows what she’s talking about!
Interestingly enough, New Leaf Market and I are close in age. Over the past ten years the Co-op and I have grown up together. I started out as a cashier back when New Leaf Market was still a small store in a great location. There have been many changes since then: two expansions, numerous resets, patronage rebates, policy governance, staff turnover and the soaring popularity of natural and organic groceries. I look at New Leaf Market now and I see a mature store, one that remembers where it came from and confident in what it has become. Like many adults, the Co-op has found a place where its youthful idealism is balanced by life’s practicalities. I’m not sure what’s next for New Leaf Market, but I’m sure that it will be interesting.
I have mixed feelings about the completion of construction. While I am extremely excited to see our hard work come to fruition, I’m also sad to see our partnerships with the design team and construction crew come to an end. The people really do make a difference—talented, and funny, people like Architects Lewis and Whitlock, and our contractor, Mad Dog Design and Construction. Both firms have worked tirelessly to navigate our phased construction, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the final outcome.
Architects Camden Whitlock and Dan Capoot and interior designer Robbyn Whitlock expertly balanced our hopes and dreams for the store, along with our out-of-town consultants. The resulting design maintains New Leaf Market’s funky sense of co-opness while modernizing our look. We are now the hippest grocery store in town.
Mad Dog construction superintendents Bill Brown and Mike Earp surpassed going above and beyond. Our project was very complicated and riddled with surprises. The existing condition of our floor, electric panels and portions of the ceiling above the ceiling tiles were unknown prior to beginning the project. Safety issues related to multiple phases of construction in a working grocery store added another layer of complexity. Top that with the co-op way of doing things—meaning that everyone has a voice—and you’ve got yourself one hell of a project. Bill was a kind teacher to me as I learned my role as project manager and struggled to immerse myself in the construction world. I learned a lot of terminology and a few choice phrases that I will carry with me forever. Unfortunately, Bill had to leave for another project after the end of phase two. We missed him dearly, but his leaving meant that Mike, previously Bill’s assistant, took over as superintendent. Bill couldn’t have asked for a better replacement. Mike seamlessly picked up where Bill left off and has taken us through the end of construction on schedule. I would be remiss if I failed to mention Mad Dog employees Hal Greenman, project manager, and Lisa Montgomery, assistant to the project manager. Hal and Lisa kept us on track by overseeing the budget, timeline and orders. The Mad Dog family has become friends and we will miss them dearly.
Our subcontractors also demand mentioning. Although all of our subs have worked hard, a few stand out from the pack, specifically Weston Trawick (electric), Benson’s Heating and A/C, Southeastern Contracting (SCI) (plumbing) and Brown’s Refrigeration. Weston Trawick employees (Stitch, James, JB) have been on site practically every day since last November. They have worked nights, weekends, and everything in between. Benson’s and SCI tackled everything we threw at them without fail. Brown’s Refrigeration has been our refrigeration contractor for over 20 years. As usual, they did us right. Not only did they install all of our new refrigeration, they also stored the cases at their warehouse for months while we waited for the next phase of construction.
I can’t forget you, our customers. To be perfectly honest, we were expecting to be overwhelmed by complaints about the constant shifting of products, tight quarters and construction noise. While there were a few issues, overall our customers were supportive, excited and highly complimentary. Your optimism has been extremely appreciated. It kept us going and was a huge source of comfort to our staff.
Last, but not least, I need to thank our staff. It has been a grueling process full of constant change. The staff has enthusiastically volunteered for overnight shifts, has learned and re-learned the locations of our products, stepped up their level of service to help confused customers, worked in super cramped spaces and has shouted over construction noise. We unequivocally could not have completed this expansion/renovation without their dedication to New Leaf Market.
One person in particular was my partner in crime, Phil Valentine. As store manager, Phil was in charge of many aspects of the project, but the most daunting task was coordinating the overnight shifts. Overnight shifts before and after the second and third phases moved product out from unfinished areas and into completed spaces. This process is a juggling act of monumental proportions—people, equipment and product. Phil’s attention to detail and constant revision of the plan resulted in the smoothest resets we have ever done. I am very grateful for his diligence and for his extensive store knowledge.
I hope with all my heart that our new store will finally be the full-service grocery store our existing customers have waited for, while attracting and serving more Tallahassee residents. The success of this project is a testament to the strength of our community and the viability of the co-op business model. I am proud of the work we have done here and look eagerly to what the future brings.