Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Theresa Bienz, of Barre, writes down her thoughts during a potluck Sunday to support efforts to establish a co-op grocery store in Barre. Organizers sought input on what philosophy the store would operate under, what the store would offer, and how it would remain responsive to the community's needs.
BARRE — Another month, another milestone. That could easily be the mantra for a growing grassroots group that is pushing plans to open a cooperatively owned grocery store in downtown Barre.
They haven’t settled on a location yet, but organizers of Granite City Grocery insist they have more than just a name. They have momentum, and that, they say, will be their most valued commodity in the weeks and months to come.
The group, which recently surpassed 400 pledged members and held a potluck supper at the First Presbyterian Church over the weekend, won’t be hosting a ribbon-cutting anytime soon. However, Emily Kaminsky, chairwoman of its self-appointed board, said that so far it has managed to hit every goal it has set for itself.
That may yet change, according to Kaminsky, who said Monday a self-imposed April 30 deadline for identifying 600 founding members remains “doable,” but it isn’t as crucial as it was when the grocery store was first proposed as a ground-floor tenant of City Place, the four-story redevelopment project under way across North Main Street from Depot Square.
Granite City Grocery may yet be a tenant of City Place, but Kaminsky said that is no longer the given that it once was and that the change has been “liberating” for boosters of an idea that continues to enjoy growing support but will require extensive outreach if it is going to become a reality.
“We’ve been advised to not rush things,” she said.
Initially, organizers had established an aggressive schedule that would have required holding the cooperative’s first membership meeting later this spring. Now they are planning a party.
According to Kaminsky, the communitywide celebration will likely coincide with the successful conclusion of the first phase of the membership drive, but the membership meeting — one at which the cooperative’s first official board will be elected and its vision solidified — probably won’t be scheduled until fall.
“We thought it may be just as well … to take the time we need over the summer to get the entire membership structure down,” she said.
According to Kaminsky, working out those mechanics is a critical step before beginning to accept $200 pledges — either in installments or in full — from founding members.
To pivot from feasibility to planning and implementation, Kaminsky said, the group needs at least 600 members, though actually capitalizing an 8,000- to 12,000-square-foot grocery store will require between 1,500 and 2,000 members.
“This thing really goes as fast as a community buys into it,” she said.
The good news is that preliminary outreach efforts are working and the group is identifying between 50 and 75 new members a month.
“We’ve continued to grow at a regular pace,” Kaminsky said, suggesting that stability is encouraging at this stage in the member-recruitment process.
“All signs are we’ve just barely hit the tip of the iceberg,” she added. “People believe this is a good idea and want to be part of it.”
Kaminsky is hopeful the recruitment effort will improve with the arrival of warmer weather and a door-to-door campaign. That volunteer-led effort will be crucial, she said.
“The key is just getting the word out to the community that there’s a place for everybody to participate,” she said, noting that a recently formed steering committee will meet for the second time Thursday and four subcommittees are up and running.
One of those subcommittees is focused exclusively on community outreach, another on membership development, a third has launched what Kaminsky said will be a thorough site selection process, and the fourth will deal with finances and fundraising.
The overarching goal is to build on early momentum by persuading residents from Barre and beyond to invest in the idea.
“We can’t just be a group of people who have the resources to pay $200 tomorrow. We have to be a group of people who are economically diverse because the numbers have to be there ultimately,” Kaminsky said.
Though the organization isn’t ready to begin accepting money, Kaminsky said those interested in pledging to become members can contact her at 279-7518 or visit www.granitecitygrocery.coop.
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