COVID-19 and Our Co-operative

March 12th, 2020

Updated 3/16/20

Firestorm will be closed while we evaluate the worsening public health situation in our region and develop strategies to ensure that our co-op and its members make it through the fallout of COVID-19. We are canceling all events through the end of the month and taking precautions to limit the risk of transmission at Firestorm.

We'll be working with The Steady Collective to assure that life-saving harm reduction services are not interrupted in West Asheville. There is a lot of inspiring mutual aid taking place in Western North Carolina right now and we’re excited to offer support wherever we can.

This post is being made with the goal of sharing information about how our co-operative is being impacted by, and is responding to, COVID-19. As of today we have not changed our hours of operation. We intend to do so only in the event that members of our team are known to have been exposed, become ill, or local conditions lead public health advocates to recommend the closure of most public spaces. We will continue to post about event cancellations or changes in our status.

At our weekly meetings, there's been a lot of discussion about how to mitigate risk and practice mutual aid. Like many retail and service workers we are financially at risk, personally and collectively. Within a context of extremely limited resources, our co-operative has a history of prioritizing the physical, mental, and emotional needs of individual members. In recent years, this has included the establishment of a mutual aid fund for economic hardship within our collective. This fund is modest and not intended to address a generalized state of crisis.

Several events and conferences that we were counting on have been cancelled and we anticipate that this will only get worse. In the event that we must close our doors either because we cannot operate, or doing so would be irresponsible, we will attempt to offset the impact through online sales. Because rent does not stop and three individuals depend on Firestorm salaries, being closed will cost our co-operative about $275/day. An extended closure would have an existential impact on our project.

Beyond our co-op, we are extremely concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable members of our community. In West Asheville there is no shelter system and no public bathroom or other infrastructure available for individuals who are without housing. Members of our community who are queer, food insecure, and/or using IV drugs are disproportionately immunocompromised and already living with extreme unmet medical needs. Simultaneously, the form of "social distancing" advocated by U.S. elites is a neoliberal trap that will fail individuals who are poor, isolated, and neurodivergent. Disease in our society is more social than natural. We know that this virus' devastating impact will follow the fault lines of Capitalism; and an effective response to it requires us to think and act socially.

A lot is still unknowable, but as a democratic workplace we will meet the challenge through collective creativity. In the meanwhile, we invite you to support our co-operative by buying a book through our website. We are in the middle of a flash sale on farm and garden titles, which seems appropriate given the fragility of our social structures today.