WTF: What’s going on with the Granite City grocery store in Barre? | WTF | Seven days


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  • Courtesy of Nick Landry
  • After eight years of efforts to open a traditional food cooperative in Barre, members of Granite City Grocery will vote online between May 28 and June 18 to elect a new board of directors or to dissolve completely.

In February, a Seven days the reader asked us about the garden signs that had appeared on Barre’s lawns which said: “We own it!” The reader knew that the signs were placed by members of Granite City Grocery, a proposed food cooperative that has been in the works for years. But his questions were: “What do they have?” and “What happened to the money that people put into it?”

Both are legitimate questions. Seven days first reported on plans to establish a member-owned grocery store in August 2012. Since the former Grand Union entered three decades ago, downtown Barre has not had a full-fledged supermarket. As Emily Kaminsky, a Barre resident, told reporter Kathryn Flagg in 2012: “We are tired of waiting for someone to come and meet our needs.”

This wait continued, but not for lack of interest or effort. In 2013, more than 100 Barre residents attended a community meeting to talk about the dearth of food purchasing options in the city center and to discuss the opening of a traditional food cooperative, which would be owned. and democratically governed by its members and employees.

Over the past eight years, Granite City Grocery, as the co-op has been named, has sold 723 subscriptions – each for a household of one to four people – for a one-time fee of $ 200. Since then, however, the co-op has not sold a single carrot, loaf of bread, or gallon of milk.

There are several large modern supermarkets in the Barre area, including a Hannaford, Shaw’s and Price Chopper, all within a short drive of the town center. But many residents of the city do not own a vehicle. More than a quarter of Barre’s residents live below the poverty line, and affordable grocery options within walking distance of downtown are limited.

“There are still a significant number of people who [food] shop at Dollar General, “said Nick Landry, co-op board chairman.” I know people who go to Cumberland Farms to buy their groceries.

Landry is a native of Barre who left for 10 years to serve in the United States Marine Corps before earning a commerce degree and returning in 2013. A week after returning home, he moved on. enlisted in the effort to start the food cooperative and has been involved as a volunteer ever since. (Landry also works full-time as an IT specialist at the Aldrich Public Library.)

The status of downtown Barre as a food desert hasn’t changed much since then, although in 2019 Vermont Salumi, which produces and sells cold cuts and sausages, opened AR Market, a top grocery store. upscale on Main Street.

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But Landry noted that the business realities of the supermarket industry have changed since 2013. At the time, the cooperative expected that at least half of its food products would be conventional and sold at below-average prices; its more expensive organic products would have made up for it. But over the past eight years, wholesale grocery prices have risen much faster than inflation, said Landry, “which changes the financial position of the co-op.”

Then there is the human factor of keeping people active and engaged in the cooperative effort. Because Granite City Grocery is yet to be completed, new memberships have been reported, exceeding the target of 1,500.

The cooperative also struggled to recruit new board members. The original 13-person board has dropped to four, and two of the four – Landry and his partner, Heather Runk – plan to step down in June after serving for several years. The other two board members have agreed to stay an additional year to train new members, provided at least five people come together to serve. (A council of at least five is required by state law.)

At Granite City Grocery’s next annual meeting on June 10, co-op members will be invited to vote for new board members. They’ll also be asked a more basic question: Should Granite City grocery store completely dissolve? If members vote to do so, the funds remaining in the co-op’s bank account, which amount to less than $ 7 per member, would be donated to the Vermont Food Bank rather than returned to members.

So what happened to all the money invested by members?

The Granite City grocery store maintained a website and membership database, Landry explained, which cost money. It has also funded market research over the years, which cost around $ 10,000 each. While most of these studies were funded by state and federal grants, he said, the most recent was underwritten with member equity. In addition, the cooperative must maintain a state-mandated indemnity insurance plan for officers on its board. “It was the biggest chunk, paying the insurance bill every year,” Landry added.

Did the members of the cooperatives understand this existential crisis or were they frustrated by it?

“It was a bit of both,” Landry said. “Some people emailed us and said, ‘I want my $ 200 back.’ And we say, “I’m sorry, but we can’t. It’s not here to give.” ”

Ultimately, members of Granite City Grocery can only own the dream of a supermarket in downtown Barre. But according to some, including Landry, there is still a chance that the dream will come true.

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