by Sue Ann Rybak
Glenn Bergman, 63, general manager of Weavers Way, a co-operative market founded in Mt. Airy in 1972, announced on April 2 that he is leaving the co-op to become executive director of Philabundance, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating hunger in the Delaware Valley.
“I am honored and I’m grateful to the board for the opportunity to lead this exceptional organization of passionate, dedicated and talented professionals,” said Bergman, who will succeed Mark Bender, the Philabundance interim executive director on June 1. “I hope to continue to foster the innovative and needed programming that has made Philabundance a leader in driving hunger from our communities.”
Bergman, who hopes to remain on the board of Weavers Way Community Programs, added that as the executive director of Philabundance, he will have an unique opportunity to “help make a difference in reducing food insecurity in our city and region.”
Murvin Lackey, chairman of the Philabundance board, said Bergman has a strong connection to the organization’s mission.
“Glenn Bergman has a strong understanding of the connections between hunger, food, access, health, poverty, and economic policy, and he is eager for Philabundance to take a lead role in advocating for change in our community,” Lackey said in a statement. “Glenn has thought a great deal about the causes of hunger and believes that Philabundance is uniquely positioned to lead a coalition of partners.”
Prior to coming to Weavers Way in 2004, Bergman worked as a chef and food service manager at Shooting Stars Corp. (the Frog Commissary restaurant and catering company), the Wood Company and the Compass Group.
Bergman worked as a regional vice president at the Compass Group, where he oversaw $38 million in food service business and 500 associates in the New York-to-Harrisburg market until he was laid off.
At that time, Weavers Way Co-op was in dire financial straits. Its longtime bookkeeper had mismanaged funds by writing bad checks and paying staggering sums in bank overdraft fees. Many members feared the store would be forced to close.
Bergman, a longtime Weavers Way member, was considering opening up his own restaurant or taking a job with Aramark Corp. overseeing food service management at Yale University at the time.
He recalled shopping in the store and being flanked by members of the co-op, who asked if he was going to take the job.
Bergman remembered thinking, “No. I have no grocery experience.” But, he said, he soon realized Weavers Way was more than just a grocery store.
“It is a place for the community to come together and support the local economy,” he said.
Bergman noted that none of his prior employers worked continuously “to support economic development by buying local, paying living wages and supporting community groups and institutions in ways that strengthen the community [like Weavers Way does].”
He said when he first arrived at the co-op there was no way to do an accurate audit because it didn’t have a POS system (point of sale for transactions), inventory control plan or cash management plan.
“They were just using sheets of paper with products on them and what the markup was,” Bergman said. “But, I think my first goal was just moral.”
Norman Weiss, who has worked at Weavers Way for over 34 years, said Bergman had worked hard over the years to increase the variety of locally grown products and provide opportunities for everyone – both members and non-members – to have access to quality local natural organic foods and products.
Weiss said by dropping the work requirement for members and opening the store to non-members he has increased membership from 2500 households to 5300 households.
Recently, Bergman helped to launch Weavers Way’s Food For All program, which is designed to put more healthy food and eco-friendly products in the hands of low-income members. The program offers Weavers Way members eligible for SNAP, WIC, TANF or Medicaid an automatic 10 percent off nearly all items.
Mt. Airy resident Laura Morris Siena, Weavers Way board secretary, said under Bergman’s tenure the co-op’s sales have quadrupled and the number of employees have tripled.
“It’s not just about selling groceries for Glenn,” she said. “He is constantly looking to identify ways in which we can engage in local economic activities.”
Siena said Bergman came up with an idea to teach C.W. Henry Elementary School students important business skills and the importance of healthy eating by starting a community program where kids could sell healthy snacks at recess and donate any profits they made to a charity of their choice. The program eventually grew into Weavers Way’s Community Programs, the nonprofit arm of Weavers Way that works to educate children, teens and adults about farming and taking care of the environment.
“It’s quite a legacy when you look back,” she said. “We went from a near-death experience to a $20 million company that is just going to keep growing.”
Chris Hill, president of the Weavers Way board of directors, said Bergman’s creativity is boundless. Hill said he put a lot of energy into supporting the development of the two urban farms run by Weavers Way and also helped establish the co-op’s Annual Urban Farm Bike Race, which raises funds for Weavers Way Community Programs.
“We as a board are going to miss him,” he said. “I am sure we will find someone who is wonderful to replace him, but, he has been an inspiration to us because of his boundless energy, creativity and vision.”