by Joshua Jerome
Three years ago a small contingent of Barre residents came together in the hopes of forming a cooperatively owned grocery store downtown. Granite City Grocery was formed and since that time there has been a cadre of dedicated volunteers who have steered the organization through a delicate process of vetting properties and building up their membership. Currently, the grocery co-op has 620 members from all over Central Vermont with a majority residing in Barre.
Most recently, the organization went through their first full vetting of a property located right downtown, and at the end of the process it was determined that the site did not fall in alignment with some requirements. However, not all is lost for Granite City Grocery as they now have a better understanding of the process for fully vetting a property. The grocery co-op board knows that their members have been patient and encouraging during this three-year process, and where they are today is not so much different than many startup cooperative owned grocery stores around the country. In fact, it takes on average three to five years for a cooperative owned grocery store to start up as reported by the Food Coop Initiative.
This summer, the Granite City Grocery board is focused on increasing membership to 700 by September and continuing work with their industry experts, CDS Consulting who have worked with Hunger Mountain Coop and the Brattleboro Food Coop. Additionally, they are working with a commercial realtor and inquiring about other locations in and around downtown Barre. One of the most important initiatives is the continued outreach to the community to get feedback in this ever evolving process. Their annual meeting will be held at the Old Labor Hall on June 29 at 5:30 p.m. and anybody is welcome to come and learn about Granite City Grocery. Eileen Peletier, executive director of Downstreet Housing and Community Development will present the benefits of having a grocery store in downtown Barre and a vote for officers of the board of directors will be held.
Reed Curry, president of the board, recently told me how positive she was feeling given their current position of looking for that elusive downtown site with dedicated parking and a loading dock convenient for trucks. She was also optimistic about the potential for collaboration that is creative in addressing some of their requirements. “It takes a village” she said “and that’s why 620 people have opted to pay $200 to become members of Granite City Grocery.” The $200 not only allows you and your family to become members, but it’s an investment in the community, Reed described. The city and private developers have invested millions into the downtown over the last six years and becoming a member allows individuals to invest in their community.
As Granite City Grocery works towards identifying potential new locations and driving membership upward, they are preparing their hiring criteria for a general manager for a potential fall solicitation. Barre was once home to one of the first grocery cooperatives in the country when La Cooperativa Italiana opened up in the Old Labor Hall in 1901 and with continued community support, the city will once again have a cooperatively owned grocery store.
The author is the executive director of The Barre Partnership.