On a recent rainy and cold Tuesday afternoon Front End Manager Annie Hubble sits in the deli with a cup of tea to take a break for a moment and listen to the live music. Nearby is a young boy playing the piano, entertaining customers as part of the Co-op’s Tuesday Night Music event. Above him hangs paintings from a local artist through a program that Annie helped establish.
“This is what I love about the Co-op,” Annie says. “I love the community programs, like our live music, that make us so much more than a grocery store. We’re about people.”
It’s this love for community that has kept Annie at the Co-op for nearly 25 years and motivated her many contributions to the “Co-op experience” that draws in so many people from the region.
Originally from England, Annie came to the United States in 1974 in search of spacious settings and down-to-earth communities. In 1991, after visiting a few Idaho small towns, she moved from Colorado and chose Moscow as her home. Annie was a single mother at that point, and she could tell Moscow would be a safe and comfortable place to raise her kids.
While in Colorado Annie worked for four years in a health food restaurant and had become more committed to healthy eating, and so when she moved to Moscow she knew exactly where she wanted to work.
Fast Food Annie spreads her wings
Within two weeks of moving here in 1991 Annie was hired as the manager of the Co-op deli. At that time, the Co-op was located at 310 West 3rd Street, in the orange brick building that many people call “the old Kentucky Fried Chicken location.”
The Co-op moved from a smaller Washington Street store to this location in 1989 after it was vacated by KFC. It was our fourth home and the first place where we had the space for house-made deli and bakery items, but only for to-go food.
At that time the Co-op had only one deli worker – the manager – which meant Annie did just about everything, from prepping all deli food to washing the dishes and mopping the kitchen floor. Bakery and deli production happened upstairs, and Annie recalls hauling upstairs large bags of flours and all of the other ingredients with her colleagues, and then running downstairs with the finished product for sale. She earned the title “Fast Food Annie” for her efficiency, because each day she alone would create six sandwich specials, two salads (often tabbouleh and hummus), and soup, and eventually she also took over cookie baking.
“Fast Food Annie was a joke because what we were doing was considered ‘slow food,’” Annie said. “But you have to make slow food quickly, especially when you’re the only one working in the deli!”
Another favorite memory from this location is the Holiday Bazaar. Each year in November and December the upstairs space was decorated with lights and filled with local and regional holiday crafts and treats for sale. “It was so beautiful upstairs during the bazaar with all the lights,” Annie recalls. “It was magical.”
Annie also remembers excitement and a little drama around the Co-op’s purchase of its first espresso machine, around 1992 or 1993. For some, selling fancy coffee was a sign of the Co-op becoming less pure. Espresso was new to Moscow at that time, and Annie believes only one other business in town may have been selling it then. Annie began assisting with espresso service, which happened outside the store on a cart except for when it closed down during winter.
“I loved it,” Annie said. “It was so fun to make people their drinks. When I was back cooking, it was just me and the vegetables and the dishes. I loved being able to talk with people.”
Because of that love for talking with people, Annie eventually began working as a cashier shortly before the Co-op moved the store up the road to 221 East 3rd Street in 1999.
Expanding service at 221 East 3rd Street
The Co-op’s fifth home, which now houses Safari Pearl, offered more space for our growing Co-op. Annie was promoted from cashier to Front End Manager, which involves overseeing cashiers and front end service.
Annie fondly recalls Shawn Cernik’s children helping her open the store on Mondays, which is the day Shawn was in town to wash laundry at the next-door laundromat. “I called them Monday’s children, and they were so sweet,” Annie said. “They would help me stock and open grocery bags for customers to use later.”
While administrative space was tight at this location (and Annie’s desk was in the staff breakroom), there was greater retail space. The deli expanded to offer a few seats for in-store dining, and customers also could relax and eat outside on the patio that faced 4th Street and the post office.
And while the Co-op didn’t yet have its own meat department then, we began selling pre-packaged organic meat, a notable and somewhat controversial change from our vegetarian roots.
At this time Annie also was a co-coordinator of the Participating Owner Program, which engages Co-op owners in volunteer roles. Her fondest memories involve the volunteer parties, which included a lasagna feast, a dance party at the 1912 Center, a potluck at the American Legion cabin, and swim parties at the public pool. Does Annie enjoy hosting parties? “Oh, I love parties,” Annie says, with a devilish smile. “I love being at the parties.”
In 2004 a few volunteers and staff suggested that the Co-op display local art in the deli, and Annie took on making it happen. Also around that time volunteers and staff used the deli space to launch the Tuesday night music program.
Grab a cart and let’s move
We moved into our current home, which was once a Safeway, in October 1999. To help make the move, Annie recalls volunteers and staff loading up shopping carts with goods and pushing them down the road, across Washington, to 121 East 5th Street.
With the growth that came with each move, Annie has seen some people get upset about changes or the growth itself. She understands the longing for the intimacy and simplicity of past, smaller stores, but she also reminds people that in those days the Co-op could not afford to offer employees’ health insurance, competitive wages, or paid time off for vacations or illness.
“Yes, it was cozy back then, but we now have much better working conditions.”
And, she notes, in earlier times co-ops were the only place people could find organic produce, miso soup, and kale. “People had to come to co-ops for those kinds of things. Now we have competition and we have to find ways to meet people’s needs,” she says.
With this much larger location the Co-op was able to have a Customer Service Desk, which Annie loves because it provides a focal point for the store and for people to find someone ready to help them.
Customer Service is important to Annie, and she is careful about whom she hires and thorough with the training she provides. Her motivation is part of a deeper affection for people and community that is central to her life. Joseph Erhard-Hudson has observed this throughout the 15 years he has worked with Annie, at times as her peer and at times as one of her employees. He currently is a lead cashier and when he first met Annie he was a bakery volunteer at the previous location near the post office.
“She is universally kind and respectful,” Joseph notes. “No matter what kind of mood someone comes to her in, she responds with the same cheer and respect as she would give anyone. She is always representing the Co-op. That’s her concern, and it is who she is.”