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Cooperative Grocery Store Coming to Downtown Winsted

Mad River Market hoping to open by the end of 2018

 

By Colleen Gundlach

Winsted used to have a variety of grocery stores from which to choose: the A&P on Main Street and later Willow Street; Liberty Market and Mencuccini’s on Main Street; Nichols Market on Park Place; Bruno’s and Toto’s up by the lake; Louise Porro’s on Pratt Street; and Finast on the site currently occupied by the college’s new Joyner building. As the years moved on, so did the stores, either going out of business or moving over to Barkhamsted. The only one that stood the test of time was Winsted Super Saver, opened by John Dwan in 1981. When Dwan announced his retirement in spring 2016, the townspeople were shocked at the thought of losing their one remaining grocery store in the downtown business area.

Super Saver was within walking distance for Winsted’s senior citizen population concentrated in housing complexes in the Chestnut Street and Gay Street block, and also for many nonsenior lower income residents who live in the downtown area. The closing of Super Saver was not only an inconvenience in general but also a very real problem for some residents. In an effort to fill the void, Dwan approached Charlene LaVoie and Bob Geiger to see if the community might band together to open a cooperative market, a co-op.

One of the people approached was Philip Allen, chairman of Winsted’s Economic Development Commission. “The response was instant,” says Allen. “We were quickly able to recruit a strong board of directors, and we were hoping for a turnkey takeover when John Dwan retired.” The timing proved to be too tight, however, and Dwan had to take a different offer for the Main Street space.

Not easily discouraged, the co-op directors located another spot, in the former Lambert Kay building on Lake Street, just across the river from Main Street. The property was purchased in June by real estate developers Parker Benjamin, the same firm that renovated the old Myrtle Mills property in Unionville. The company is working to renovate the Lambert Kay property into The Winsted Edge Works™, a complex of shops, galleries and other stores, with the intention of having leasable spaces available by late summer of 2018. The co-op, now named Mad River Market, has a nonbinding agreement to open there, shooting for the fourth quarter of 2018.

The market received a Rural Seed Grant from the Food Co-op Initiative to support the initial market study (which will inform the co-op business plan), to fund preliminary architectural work, and to pay for members of the board of directors to attend a start-up co-op conference in 2018.

Part of the funding for the market will come from the sale of shares. Regular shares cost $200 and preferred shares are $1,000. “There is basically no practical difference between a regular and a preferred share,” says Allen. “We created the preferred share for people with greater means to have a larger impact on our capitalization.” He explains that “shares are available to everyone, not just Winsted residents, but only one per person, and it’s a one-time purchase, not a yearly fee. One person, one share, one vote. No one person will have controlling interest.” Shares can be given as gifts, however.

One goal of Mad River Market is, of course, to ensure the continuation of a grocery store in Winsted, but what is generating the most excitement about the project is the community-giving aspect of the business. With a goal of being an alternative to driving to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, Allen says they want to be “better at locally sourcing our products than is possible in the large chains. We want to play a major role in supporting the small farmers and other agricultural businesses by providing a steady place for them to show their goods.” The market will also offer a café and a prepared foods section, and will be open to everyone, not just shareholders.

Knowing that this high quality of food will cost slightly more, the Mad River Market plans to offer discounts to senior citizens and to low-income residents who receive SNAP or WIC benefits. The discounts will be embedded in the patron’s customer card to avoid embarrassment in the checkout line. “There is a value in forgoing a portion of profits for the benefit of the community,” says Allen.

Another goal is to minimize food waste. Anything that doesn’t sell will be donated to the Open Door Soup Kitchen or the Salvation Army, Methodist Church or NCCC student pantry whenever possible. As for items that can’t be donated, Allen says they will “take pains to minimize the waste stream. We will donate anything compostable to a farmer who we know will actually convert it to compost and use it.”

Currently, the board of directors is self-appointed. A shareholder meeting is planned for January or February to formally elect the board.

The immediate goal is to recruit 200 shareholders. Right now they are up to 90 and are hoping to reach their goal by the end of the year. For more information or to become a shareholder, go to madrivermarket.com.

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