Tens of thousands of people have signed on to a petition hoping to stop the sale of Mountain Equipment Co-op to a private U.S. firm.
The sale was announced Monday, and will see Los Angeles-based private investment firm Kingswood Capital Management acquire the business and its assets. As a result, the retailer will no longer operate as a member-owned co-operative.
“People are really upset. They’re angered; they feel betrayed; they feel that there was no consultation here from the board — they feel the board has failed in its duty,” petition organizer Paul Finch told Global News.
“What we’re really asking for immediately is that we want this stopped. We think the board of directors at MEC has lost the confidence of the membership. We want them to resign; we want elections held.”
The sale drew an immediate social media backlash from members, with even B.C. Premier John Horgan chiming in.
“MEC was founded here in B.C. and has been a big part of the lives of British Columbians who love the outdoors,” the premier wrote on Twitter.
“It’s sad to see Canada’s largest co-op being sold off to a U.S. firm without consulting the millions of members.”
On Wednesday, MEC’s website still advertised memberships, stating “everyone who shops here is a member and an owner, and our business structure is around values, not profit.”
As of Wednesday evening, more than 55,000 people had signed the Change.org petition.
MEC was founded in Vancouver in 1971, and currently has more than five million members and 22 stores across Canada.
In July, the co-op announced that it was making the layoffs of 200 front-line staff permanent, as it grappled with fallout from COVID-19.
But MEC’s financial troubles predate the pandemic.
The company lost $11 million in 2018 on sales of nearly half a billion dollars. The co-op brought in new CEO Phil Arrata in mid-2019 “to address … financial challenges.”
MEC said the sale came after a special committee of its board reviewed options to keep the retailer afloat and determined selling the company was the only way forward.
The sale will take place under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, and must still clear court and regulatory approvals. It is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Finch said he’s been bombarded with messages from angry members, and that they are working to determine if they have any legal avenues to challenge the sale.
“When even the premier of the province puts out a social media message commenting on this, and how unfortunate it is, I think that really speaks volumes about how many British Columbians care about MEC as a co-operative,” he said.
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