Co-op Gets OK for Overhaul

Hanover Store To Be Renovated

Members of the Co-op Food Stores have voted on a proposed renovation of the Hanover store, shown in an artist's rendering courtesy of Studio Nexus Design. Originally built in 1963 (shown in a postcard at upper left), the store had previously been remodeled in 1985 and 1994.

Members of the Co-op Food Stores have voted on a proposed renovation of the Hanover store, shown in an artist's rendering courtesy of Studio Nexus Design. Originally built in 1963 (shown in a postcard at upper left), the store had previously been remodeled in 1985 and 1994.

Hanover — Co-op Food Store members have approved the $5.3 million renovation of the member-owned grocery store’s South Park Street location.

The 30-day voting period closed Wednesday with more than 1,200 votes cast. Eighty-eight percent of votes backed the renovation, which is slated to start in October, according to Allan Reetz, the spokesman for the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society.

The 50-year-old South Park Street store has been renovated twice before, most recently in 1994. But Reetz said this project is different from previous renovations, which were more about expanding the space.

“This is about improving an aging structure,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “As one contractor put it, they’re going to touch every part of that building.”

The Co-op has 30,000 members on the books, of which 18,000 are active. While voters represented only a small percentage of membership, Reetz said he was impressed with the turnout. The only time where voter turnout came close to this week’s numbers was when bylaws were changed and 1,000 votes were cast, Reetz said. Board elections usually see 300 to 400 voters.

“For it to have surpassed the 1,200-mark is really a great signal of approval,” he said.

Successful execution of the plan is centered around a 2,700-square-foot addition to the south side of the building, adjacent to South Park Street. During construction, which is expected to start in October and finish in July 2015, the new addition will temporarily house different food departments as their permanent locations are renovated within the existing structure. After completion, the space will contain a cafe similar to the one in the Lebanon store. The cafe will feature both made-to-order and ready-to-go foods.

“People are eager,” Reetz said. “The idea that the new space allows for expanded services and more free movement is a real advantage.”

The Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society is in the midst of filing paperwork with the town of Hanover. Reetz said he hopes the town Planning Board will approve the project by August.

The store faces a host of structural and engineering issues including components of the HVAC system that are at, or past, their recommended service life; dairy products displayed in open coolers, creating a cold area within the store; inefficient lighting atop shelves; and rusted first-floor decking.

Kevin Birdsey, the manager on duty on Thursday, said that in addition to the uncomfortable climate created by the coolers in the dairy aisle, they are also well past their prime.

“A lot of times they just shut down,” he said.

The Canaan resident said he’s most excited simply for the change-of-pace that renovations will provide. He’s also looking forward to the expanded selection of produce that will be made available for shoppers.

“The hope is that we’ll be able to provide more produce that (shoppers) are interested in,” he said. “We’re more focused on fresh food.”

Offering more fresh foods comes at a cost — the store’s selection of paper products will shrink. Co-op officials have said the move is a response to a change in consumer behavior where an increasing number of people are shopping online.

Additional improvements include new checkout stands, a new main entrance, a relocation of the frozen food aisle, a sushi counter, a full-service prepared foods department, a new cheese department, enhanced bulk department and new restrooms.

The addition will also feature an outside seating area, as well as a new store entrance facing the street. The new entrance will allow for easier access for pedestrians and cyclists, who currently have to walk through the parking lot to enter the store.

“We have a lot of foot and bike traffic — quite a bit actually,” Birdsey said. “A lot of residents in neighboring blocks just walk over.”

He added that Dartmouth students also frequent the Co-op, given the college’s proximity. That’s an idea supported by biology PhD students Katie Duryea and Beth Reinke. The pair were shopping for a quick bite to eat on Thursday afternoon.

Duryea, who lives in Norwich, said that her choice in shopping at the store is motivated first and foremost by convenience.

“We work in the new life science building,” she said. “So it’s a quick drive.”

While her car is currently Duryea’s transportation choice, after hearing about the new entrance, she may change her mind.

“I absolutely would bike over,” she said.

The graduate students unanimously list the prepared foods section as one of their favorite features of Co-op — and say they are excited about the store’s plan to offer an increased section of quick bites.

Co-op member Melanie Isett, who was shopping with her toddler daughter Natalie, said she is excited about the thought of more fruits and veggies.

“There’s a great selection of local and organic food [already],” she said, adding that the selection is “right in line with what we shop for.” The Lyme resident, standing in the notoriously cold dairy aisle, said that the store “definitely can use” a renovation.

Consumers won’t be the only ones to experience an impact amidst the renovations.

Hannah Townsend was giving out samples of Douglas Sweets shortbread cookies toward the back of the store. She says the Vermont-based shortbread bakery — which is owned by her mother — has a close relationship with Co-op, explaining the convenience of having three stores in close proximity.

Townsend said management has always been very supportive of the bakery. However, in the wake of the planned renovations, vendors were sent an email explaining potential changes to the product placement.

“They said placement might be changed but we’re not sure how,” she said, adding that the email was slim on details.

However, Townsend was not concerned, and says that Co-op and Douglas Sweets have a good business relationship.

“Even now I have the seafood and meat counters promoting it,” she said.