Brattleboro Food Co-op celebrates opening
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | November 13,2012
Len Emery Photo
Customers browse products at the new Brattleboro Food Co-op in the meat and deli section of the Main Street store.
BRATTLEBORO — Some people quit the Brattleboro Food Co-op back when it switched from wooden to metal shelving.
In its early days, members debated whether to sell sugar, or white flour or even meat.
Earlier moves have been condemned as “too big, too corporate, too clean,” said Brattleboro Food Co-op Board president John Hatton.
Hatton said Saturday that while some of the changes at the new $9 million store were hard for some people to accept, the new building, which was 10 years in the making, would keep pace with growth and increased demand, as well as saving money for its members down the road.
The store is a virtual pleasure palace of organic and natural food: a cornucopia of organic Vermont fruits and vegetables, delectable cheeses, many of them made in Vermont, natural and organic meat, and an expanded deli and take-home food section, as well as the co-op’s signature bulk foods and herbs section.
Saturday marked the grand opening celebration of the new co-op, which is paired with 24 units of mixed income housing built in the two floors on top of the co-op and its offices, in a partnership with the Windham Windsor Housing Trust.
The collaborative development at the corner of Main and Canal streets was hailed as a combination of historic preservation because it restored the original streetscape of Main Street and greener-than-green new construction with multiple uses, with the added attraction of state-of-the-art energy innovations. The new store has 40 percent more space.
On Saturday there was both a squash pie and apple pie contest, free samples of everything from rustic bread and Cabot cheese to gluten-free shampoo and slices of heirloom apples.
The co-op actually moved into the new building in June, and it is almost finished, but landscaping and its new parking lot are still being completed.
The old, strip-mall-style building in the back of the lot along the Whetstone Brook has since been torn down and is being turned into a parking lot, with the new building taking up much of the old parking lot.
The co-op has endured tragedy during the construction of the new building, when its manager was shot to death in 2011 by a disgruntled employee. And it is also undergoing some growing pains, as employees have petitioned to join a union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and a vote is set for Wednesday.
Alex Gyori, who has been the general manager of the co-op for 30 years, drew laughs Saturday afternoon when he promised the construction at the building would soon be over.
“Someday soon, we will finish the project,” Gyori said when it was his turn behind the microphone. “Someday folks, this will all be done.”
The co-op started small. Its first day of business was Feb. 20, 1975 in the basement of a building on High Street. It started as a pre-order buying club, and quickly caught on. It moved to the Rollerdome on Putney Road, and then in 1979 it opened its first retail store on Flat Street, on the back side of Emerson Furniture, Hatton recalled.
It moved to the Brookside Plaza in 1988, and eventually bought the plaza in 2003, expanding and expanding, eventually taking over the entire shopping plaza.
In 1987, sales were $1 million, Hatton said, and this year sales hit $17 million.
Two people that signed the original articles of confederation, Lynn Levine and her husband Cliff Adler of Dummerston, were pleased with the new store. Both had served on the co-op’s board of directors.
“I’m proud of it,” said Levine, a consulting forester, who said despite a persistent misconception, the co-op’s prices were equal to traditional markets.
Adler, who was the co-op’s unpaid accountant in the early years, said the co-op was committed to “keeping our margins consistent” and keeping prices affordable.