Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Alex Gyori, general manager of the Brattleboro Food Co-op, has had to bring order from the chaos of moving into a new store while running the existing store.
Roger Katz/Special to The Commons
Workers pack up inventory during the last days at the old Brattleboro Food Co-op on Flat Street. The co-op moved to its current location in the 1980s from the space that now houses the Vermont Center for Photography.
Originally published in The Commons issue #156 (Wednesday, June 13, 2012).
“Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility."
—United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
It wasn’t only the United Nations General Assembly that declared 2012 to be the International Year of Cooperatives. Brattleboro did, too.
The Brattleboro Food Co-op has just taken its own breathtaking leap into the future by moving into a new, state-of-the-art green-built downtown food market.
As icing on the cake and in cooperation with the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, the co-op added 24 affordable apartments on the upper floors of the new building.
To continue the dessert analogy, the cherries will be two outdoor cafes/green spaces. These will be heavily planted to mitigate the fact that both face onto what is generally regarded as the worst traffic corner in town.
It is rare that downtown Brattleboro gets a new building and, in a time of recession, the co-op’s move is particularly bold and daring.
“It’s significant and will have an impact on the economy and on the liveliness of downtown,” said Connie Snow, the executive director of the housing trust.
With the new $9.2 million building, the co-op has increased its store space from 14,600 square feet to 23,000 square feet.
The cutting-edge, environmentally conscious construction will certainly lower the utility bills, but the green building has also dramatically increased the co-op’s mortgage payments.
According to General Manager Alex Gyori, the co-op, which has revenues of about $17 million a year, will have to increase sales by 25 percent the first year.
“It’s a lot of debt, but if we hit the sales level, we’ll be in fine shape,” Gyori said. “We need 25 percent growth in the first year, but we have 38 percent more retail space, and we’re better organized.”
The Brattleboro Food Co-op started in 1975 as a buying club and over its lifetime has had almost 10,000 shareholders. Currently, it has 5,900 members.
By almost any measure, these past 12 months have been difficult for the co-op and its shareholders.
First, a fire in an important Main Street building wiped out many of the apartments that provided the co-op with walk-in customers; the loss of 13 stores downtown also cut down on general foot traffic.
Construction on the lot, which started in late 2010 and eliminated much of the free parking, has also dramatically slowed growth.
In August 2011, the co-op had to weather the tragic killing of one of its key employees by another key employee.
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