The Assabet Food Co-op, a full-service supermarket including a deli and a café, is set to open this spring at the former Victory Supermarket on Powder Mill Road.
The food co-op has been in planning stages for 10 years, first proposed by a small group of Maynard “foodies.” While the market will be open to the general public, it is co-owned by more than 2,100 residents from 40 surrounding towns.
“The average time to open a food co-op is seven to 10 years, so we’re right on that timeframe,” said Operations Coordinator Lorne Bell.
While the market will be open to the general public, it is co-owned by more than 2,100 residents from 40 surrounding towns.
The Assabet Food Co-op’s cafe will offer seating for 25 to 30 people, either inside the cafe or outside on the foot deck overlooking the Assabet River, revealing a view not available from Powder Mill Road. Bell is particularly looking forward to the cafe.
“When they built the Powder Mill corridor, they blocked off the sightlines to the river. This deck will offer a beautiful view of the river,” he said.
Setup of the market is about 90% complete, Bell said. The original opening date last fall was pushed back by familiar pandemic-related delays. The cooperative is waiting on word that cooling units have shipped. Once that notice comes, they will set a hard date for opening day.
From the beginning in 2013, the Assabet Food Co-op was conceived as a brick-and-mortar supermarket where customers can shop for locally produced groceries and goods. Over the decade of planning, there have been an array of ideas for the organization’s structure, such as an old-school food co-op, or a buyers club.
The National Co-Op Grocers, an organization that supports and tracks cooperative grocery stores, dissuaded them from that sort of practice, keeping focus on the coming opening.
“Some folks asked about doing a buyers club before we opened. We were advised by the food coop initiative that others that have done it found it was a drain on people and resources,” Bell said. “It can also confuse people as to what you are trying to do – a buyers club or a brick and mortar store.”
Owners who buy a share in Assabet Food Co-op earn a vote on the board of directors, the chance for some discounts on bulk items, and other benefits, Bell said. Non-owners are welcome to shop when the store is open.
“What better incentive is there to shop at a store than ownership?” he said.
The lion’s share of owners, just under 50%, are Maynard residents. The rest come from Concord and other towns. A few owners hail from as far off as Oregon and Texas. Bell suspects they support the cause of a customer-owner grocery store.
Accessible, local food
Local food is the focus at Assabet Food Co-op. The goal, Bell said, is to have at least 20% of the offerings come from within 100 miles of Maynard – a radius encompassing an enormous swath of New England.
The coop has 51 local farms and more than 100 local producers, generating everything from meat and fish to sauces, drinks, and ice cream.
Co-op directors are trying to ensure that food at the market is available to everyone, regardless of income. Both WIC and SNAP will be accepted, and they are working on other programs to ensure access to healthy food.
The Assabet group has been working with a national group that pools cooperative buying power, helping push the cost of food down. That savings is passed on and, in some cases, means lower prices than expected at larger operations, Bell said.
On March 11, the cooperative began another fundraising drive, in a push to complete the opening. According to Bell, the group’s first capital campaign set them up with $2 million to get the building, renovate and hire staff, but costs continue.
“Construction costs have jumped 80 percent and manufacturing delays mean there is an additional $1.75 million needed,” Bell said.
The plan is to close the gaps with donations, grants and loans – interest bearing loans – from owners. The group hopes to realize $400,000 from the owner-funded loans, a number Bell is confident in reaching, as more than $100,000 in pledges are on the books, before the campaign has even begun, he said.