Co-op, Residents Discuss Mascoma

Enfield — By the end of yesterday’s meeting with representatives from the Co-op Food Stores, organizer Dorothy Heinrichs had the names of more than 100 residents who supported her cause.

She’ll need them all and more for her goal of opening a Co-op store in the Mascoma Valley to become a reality.

Although Co-op Food Stores Finance Director Tony Alongi said they will re-evaluate the Mascoma Valley market numbers, he challenged interested residents to view the co-op as a grassroots movement and assemble their own plan for the potential new location.

“There is no kind of ‘just add water’ model, it all just depends on the circumstances,” he said after the meeting. “That’s why I threw it back at them.”

Co-op Food Stores General Manager Terry Appleby said they conducted a study of the area several years ago, which determined the demand didn’t match the large financial investment.

“We need a market and we need a viable market,” Co-op Food Stores General Manager Terry Appleby said during the meeting. “We understand that there is a market, but not a big market.”

Now it’s up to Mascoma Valley residents to make their case for a co-op location more convenient for them than the Hanover and Lebanon stores. Mascoma Valley residents and Co-op Food Stores representatives alike mentioned several challenges standing in the way of a new location: money, membership and building availability.

But those in attendance were insistent that support for a Mascoma Valley store existed. By show of hands during the meeting, nearly all of those in attendance identified themselves as co-op members.

Heinrichs, an Orange Selectboard member, organized the meeting with Appleby. She expected about 20 people to attend and said she was pleasantly surprised when more than 80 showed up for the afternoon meeting at the Enfield Community Building.

For the first half of the meeting, residents and Co-op Food Stores representatives talked in circles about the financial and space challenges before Heinrich asked directly, “so what’s next?”

“I always tell people it takes 1,000 members and $1,000,000,” Appleby said. “It takes commitment and it takes money to build a co-op.”

Building a new structure for the co-op store would be expensive, Appleby said, so finding an equipped, pre-existing building would quicken the process. One woman proposed the idea of a loan program to generate money, which is a process some co-ops use to fund stores.

There has been some resistance toward the idea of a co-op from area residents, but there were no vocal opponents at yesterday’s meeting.

John Coffey, of Canaan, the water and sewer superintendent for the Canaan Water and Sewer System, attended the meeting and said afterward there is an old grocery store building in Canaan that has stood empty for 4-5 years and could be the home of the proposed co-op.

“The problem is it’s a food desert out here,” Coffey said.

A different woman raised concerns about the sometimes expensive costs of certain food products. Another audience member countered her claim, explaining that on several occassions she has compared the prices between the local co-ops and supermarkets and the co-op bill always came out cheaper.

Appleby said the prices would be the same, but emphasized that it’s not just about the cost of food.

“We haven’t had a recall of our ground beef in the 20 years I’ve been here because we know where it came from,” Appleby said. He mentioned that co-op food is mostly local and employees have better benefits.

“It’s not just about process, it’s about value,” Jay Heinrichs, Dorothy Heinrichs’ husband and an author and corporate consultant, said after the meeting. “People want value for their money.”

Passed around the room during the meeting was a large white notebook to collect names and emails. Additionally, she received via email more than 30 signatures from teachers and families at Cardigan Mountain School who couldn’t attend the afternoon meeting but supported the cause.

Dorothy Heinrichs said she plans to compile email addresses and phone numbers of those who signed the notebook to kick start the planning process.

She said the collection of more signatures and the formation of a committee will be the next steps.

“I will make sure this progresses,” she said.