In the grand scheme of things… this isn’t so grand.

Yann talks to the cats in front of me. It’s cute because he’s inclusive: he signs simultaneously so that I’ll understand him, even though the cats don’t.

He asked Enfoiré the Perpetually Hungry:

“Do you know how much food you could get for $5?”

*dramatic pause*

“A small bag of treats! That’s it!”

A wide-eyed plump grey cat stares out into space. The backdrop is a red couch with a Twin Peaks themed pillow.

This was Yann’s roundabout way of being snarky about Canada’s response to the news that Mountain Equipment Co-op* is now a lie. It’s not a co-op anymore: the Americans bought it. They paid for it in pennies, and we were like, “Wow, pennies. We haven’t seen those in a long time.”

And now everybody thinks they’re an expert.

Including me. But, I am–sort of–I spent six years of my life working in their service centre. This job had me go around telling new people that I, a deaf person, worked in a call centre.

“The hold music? Yup, those are my vocals.”

Of course, I never took a call: I serviced MEC members via email. This job was 50% copying and pasting the Canada Post tracking number that was sent to them in a separate email, and then relaying the quoted timeline.

“You should receive your package by Monday.”

“Oh, wow. Thank you so much.”

My Canada Post website mastery granted me larger paycheques than what I’ve been bringing home as a bike mechanic. It hardly seems fair considering how long it takes to master software that was written back when PCs had monochrome monitors, compared to trying to keep up with the ever-growing list of bike industry standards. (I believe this call centre job was the only job I’ve ever had that didn’t have me come into contact with poop.)

Then comes along a day like Monday. The service centre is going to be inundated with emails and calls from people asking for the $5 they paid for their MEC membership in 1985 back.

Now, this is where my expertise comes in handy: That $5 membership? It was a share purchase. One had to purchase a share to be a part-owner of the co-op, among millions others. That’s how co-ops work. The more gear you buy, the less closet space you have, and the higher your share value.

Back in those prosperous days (Ha! Remember those?), after a profitable year, members would see their share value shoot up, barring those who hadn’t bought as much as a Clif Bar since ’92: their $5 share would be diluted by the millions who’ve taken ownership of the co-op since then.

Whenever a member’s share value hit the threshold, which was something like $300, MEC would issue a payout. This is because, with the co-op model (MEC’s, anyway), there was a limit to how big one’s piece of the pie could be. As I worked there for so long, I own a goofy amount of outdoor gear and a share value well above $5.

My MEC share value is so high that I could probably feed Enfoiré for two months if the new overlords decide to do a payout of dividends to the millions of part-owners.

Nobody knows what will happen yet.

But, as I scroll through comments like, “I want my $5 back.” I think, “No wonder the co-op model failed if this many part-owners are this clueless.”

There’s been a board of directions election every year in which only a scant percentage of members would care to cast their vote. I remember signing up for my MEC membership when I was living in Calgary in the early 2000s. I wanted a basic black fleece jacket, and upon checkout, I learned that I couldn’t have it unless I paid the $5 membership fee. “Whatever, it’s just $5,” I thought. And this was back when I was earning $9/hr. Like most people, I didn’t care what that $5 meant.

Now, people are quite pressed about having that $5–which likely isn’t $5 anymore–returned to them. As for the slightly-more-knowledgeable others who understand the co-op model: it’s too late. Where was that passion a year ago?

To my old friends at the MEC service centre: I feel for you. This is going to be like the new logo launch times 100.

A Gif from the 2004 movie, Team America: World Police. A blonde puppet wearing a red sweater chatters, "Basically, all the worst parts of a bible" from behind a brown-haired puppet with thick eyebrows, and then walks away.

(*For my American readers, MEC is like REI. And for my European readers, I have no idea what your equivalent is.)

4 thoughts on “In the grand scheme of things… this isn’t so grand.

    1. I am sad too, but it isn’t a done deal just yet. This guy, who was one of my votes in the last BOD election, has come up with a plan to save the co-op: https://medium.com/@stevejoneshikes/can-mec-be-saved-31912487be0a

      I think he’s over-estimating people’s willingness to shell out $30 to save the co-op, though. The co-op may have began with passionate members who cared about purchasing Made in Canada products, but as I learned during my time at the service centre, not enough people were willing to pay a premium for, say, Made in Canada hard shells. Sure enough, when MEC moved their production of the Synergy (and the Instigator, and another that I can’t recall the name of) goretex jackets to Asia, and reduced their prices, the jackets did sell better. So, along with silly comments from members demanding their $5 back, members claiming that MEC failed because MEC moved the production of their house brand overseas don’t realize that they were a small minority who cared enough about buying Canadian (and could afford to do so).

      MEC changed my life: I might’ve had an office job with them, but I worked among people passionate about the outdoors who motivated me to get into climbing and cycling. MEC even paid my entry fee for the Whistler Gran Fondo in 2013, inciting my passion for cycling!

      Ah, 2020, what a year…

      Liked by 1 person

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