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2020: Isn't It Time to Support Native American Preservation?
River Valley Co-op has expressed opposition to the roundabout project planned for the Y-intersection of Hatfield Street and Route 5/North King Street in Northampton for multiple reasons. An archaeological discovery dating back 8,000 or more years lies in the path of the proposed construction. We strongly object to its destruction and have added our voice to those calling for preservation. In addition, several years before the historical site was known, we began serious discussions with City and State officials about our concerns with this construction project. We formally opposed the project in 2017. The disruptive 18-24 month timeline creates a significant economic threat to our co-op and we’ve proposed alternative solutions to support traffic safety. Our last proposed compromise was to request overnight construction to mitigate the disruption. But, as we learned more about the historic site, we concluded that the construction (day or night) simply had to be stopped to prioritize historic preservation.
We had expected that upon learning the site was eligible on several criteria for the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP), it would require the City and State to change their plans and preserve the site. It is hard to imagine that this intersection project is so important that it is worth destroying a historical site of this significance. Our expectations were not met. In June 2020 we alerted our owners that the MA DOT planned to begin bulldozing in early July. We’re grateful for the support that has kept that from happening so far.
The Attorney General delayed construction while the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) moved forward with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) chapter 106 public review process, which is required prior to the start of federally funded construction involving the discovery of historical features. This includes consulting with and securing agreement from the Federally Recognized Native American Nations including the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett as well as other stakeholders to ensure that the project addresses their concerns for protecting culturally sensitive areas. River Valley Co-op was also granted consulting party status as an abutter in August of 2020. We have been reviewing documents, asking questions, following the complex process and learning the roles of the multiple agencies.
We were recently informed by the FHA that the Massachusetts Historic Commission (MHC) has signed off on its approval of the archaeological completion report. The MHC is recommending engaging a cultural monitor to oversee some early stages of the construction process. Our objections are that the FHA and MHC are very narrowly basing their decision on the completion of the work as outlined in their agreement with the archaeological agency. They are not considering the significance of what the archaeological report showed. They are also not taking into consideration that the scope of work in the agreement was inadequate for identifying all the cultural interests at risk.
While the State, through the MHC, has signaled it is ready to move forward with construction, we understand that the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Narragansett have not agreed. It is not yet clear how this will be resolved.
When you look at the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP) which shows all the sites granted national historic preservation status, you can see evidence that the Commonwealth has long standing practices that have resulted in minimal preservation of Native American sites. With over 10,000 years of Native American history in Massachusetts and hundreds of Tribes with historical and cultural ties to this land, we have preserved less than 20 Native American sites. Yet, with 400 years of colonial history, we’ve preserved over 4,000 other historic sites. Our historic preservation practices erase Native American culture and history. These practices nearly led to the destruction of this site in Northampton in July 2020, and they remain a threat.
Preserving this site, at the very least, is an opportunity to stop another act of injustice. And perhaps it is an opportunity for a first step toward building a more inclusive and equitable historic preservation policy.
This roundabout project will destroy an ancient Native American site, it will also cause serious financial hardships to our
co-op and other local businesses in the neighborhood. We are opposed to this project for all these reasons and call on our City and State to reconsider this project. We call for a stop to the planned construction. We call for historic preservation of the site. We call for addressing historic preservation through a more transparent, inclusive, anti-colonial lens, fully honoring the authority and cultural interests of the Native American Nations.
We are watching to see what the outcome of the NHPA chapter 106 review process with the Federal Highway Administration will be. It seems poignant that we are approaching the 400th anniversary of the landing at Plymouth Rock, the historic start of colonization and genocide. Is 2020 a turning point?
We are asking you to join us in envisioning our community coming together to support the preservation of this site with gratitude that it was discovered at a time when its importance would be honored. As the next steps in the process unfold we will keep you updated.
Yes, 2020 is the time for supporting Native American historic preservation!
Update on the Historic Site
July 3rd, 2020
Last week we published a call to action to sign a petition to stop the destruction of a 10,000-year-old Native American village near our store. We had just learned that this archaeological site was threatened by state construction planned to start July 1st. At least for the short term, this 10,000-year-old village remains safe.
After the petition quickly climbed to over 10,000 signatures, a federal agency stepped in to veto the July 1st plan to start digging. The Attorney General provided a notification there would be no work on the site through July 20th. For now at least, the bulldozers are not moving.
We were also able to help make the state archaeological report, which had been kept secret by the state, available to our community. That report outlines the significance of this rare site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and calls for its preservation. This report tells us much about what was discovered. With just 20-25% of the ancient site excavated, it leaves 75-80% in harm's way if construction starts. We have been in contact with archaeologists and local activists experienced in fighting to save Native American historical sites. They have helped us interpret the state report's significance and explained the process that should be followed.
The community now knows there is an ancient archaeological site here. Petition signatures have climbed to over 50,000. Together we will all learn more about it and perhaps have some input on its fate. Numerous front-page stories, including The Republican/Mass Live and The Daily Hampshire Gazette, as well as coverage by WGBY TV57, have brought attention to the issue.
The Nipmuc Nation, as well as members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Mashpee Wampanoag, a sister tribe to the Aquinnah Wampanoag, have recently addressed this matter in the press.
Daily Hampshire Gazette 6/26/20
Mark Andrews — a tribal cultural resources monitor for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head who was at the archaeological dig in Northampton last fall — goes out on digs to make sure they are in compliance with the law and reports the findings to his tribe's historic preservation officer.
The Wampanoags are located mostly on the Cape and Islands, but because there are few federally recognized tribes in the state, they speak for many other native groups, Andrews told the Gazette in the fall. Groups, including the Nonotuck, are indigenous to Northampton.
Speaking of the roundabout project, Andrews said, "We don't feel entirely comfortable that all has been done to establish exactly what and where the impacts may or may not be going forward with the construction," he said Wednesday.
In general, "our role, from the tribal historical preservation standpoint, we are for preservation and protection of whatever resources we discover during the archaeological phase," Andrews said. "Whatever is going to provide the most preservation, the most protection for what is still lying underground, we would prefer."
Andrews underscored the importance of what was uncovered at the dig site: "When you're coming across the belongings of people who lived that long ago, it's extremely special. It's something that has to be given the proper respect."
He also takes issue with what he says is an inaccurate statement made by Leslie in a November Gazette article about how, "The site is no longer there, we excavated it. It's not going to be paved over — it's gone."
That's not the case, Andrews told the Gazette late last year. "It's really out of character for an archaeologist to say something like that … There's no foolproof way of lifting each and every artifact out of the ground."
Commonwealth Magazine 7/1/2020
Hartman Deetz, a cultural resource monitor with the Mashpee Wampanoag, a sister tribe to the Aquinnah Wampanoag, said Northampton is Nipmuc territory, so his tribe has no direct involvement. Deetz said he wants to see the site investigated, given the rarity of a 10,000-year-old site that has not been continuously inhabited. "There's the potential for a whole lot people can learn from excavation at the site if it's given proper time and attention," Deetz said.
But Deetz said he is not opposed to building a roundabout there eventually, as long as the artifacts are properly excavated and studied, and the project is done in consultation with the Nipmuc. "It should be treated first and foremost as an opportunity to learn about a history of a people who faced erasure again and again in our own history," Deetz said.
The Nipmuc Nation also came forward with a statement this week objecting to the way the petition called to preserve the site in support of the Native American community. Upon reading their statement, we see that they saw our appeal to join the petition as appearing to speak for their involvement. Our intention was not to imply the Nipmuc Nation was specifically involved in the petition. We apologized directly to them. River Valley Co-op is not seeking to take action for or in the name of any Native group.
There are some disagreements about the significance of this site due to an earlier state narrative minimizing it, while the final state site report calls for the preservation of this rare archeological discovery. This is at least cause for confusion. As consumers of local media and social media, we are keenly aware that this is an unfolding and complicated situation with a range of stakeholders and agendas. Like most of us, we are not archaeological experts. We saw the bulldozers were coming and we jumped in help stop them.
The archaeological state site report (link) evokes a sense of awe and inspiration. Since ancient times, many have shared histories in this place. This site has survived some 10,000 years, and we believe we should carefully consider how to best honor that and carry forward the wisdom from the distant past into the distant future. We are sincere in this commitment.
Nothing about our other concerns with the roundabout project as planned negates our commitment to stopping the destruction of this site. We have been in serious conversations with the city and the state from the beginning of this roundabout project. The only way we know to help mitigate what will otherwise be the long term financial hardship of a two year construction project for ourselves and our neighboring local businesses is overnight construction. However, overnight construction will destroy a 10,000-year-old village site as much as daytime construction. The urgency of saving this archaeological site from imminent destruction is the highest priority of this moment.
The 50,000+ signatures on the petition have helped to ensure Legislators and officials at the city, state, and federal levels are now aware that our community cares about this issue. We've also helped to shine a light on the fact that the federal process (Section 106) had not been completed. This process requires an archaeological Order of Completion report, which includes a period for Tribal review and comments before the report is finalized. That is the next step. We look forward to full public disclosure of the archaeological site status relative to the planned construction.
When all is said and done, when the archaeologists and Tribal authorities have settled on their conclusions, and all the stakeholders have had their needs considered, and the decision-makers have decided what is best, we - the co-op - can rest knowing that the decisions have been made with transparency and thorough consideration. What we don’t want is this to be a decision rushed through bureaucracy, paved over and destroyed, before the community can know what was discovered and how best to honor this 10,000 year old archeological site in our community.
Thank you for your attention to this amazing historic community issue. We are grateful for your help. We expect we will all learn much more as the process moves forward.
ACTION ALERT UPDATE:
Newly Released State's Report on the Ancient Village Site Threatened by Construction
June 29th, 2020
Dear River Valley Co-op Owners,
Thank you for your many supportive responses to the urgent message we sent out Wednesday to help save the 10,000-year-old Native American village site near our Northampton store. We also appreciate some owners’ questions and concerns about the project and are happy to provide additional information. The community’s amazing response to the petition demonstrates the depth of support our community has for the preservation of this 10,000 year old Native American village site.
As we said in our message Wednesday night, the state’s archaeological site report was made available to the Skibiski family’s attorney and archaeologist on Friday, June 19th. The Attorney General stipulated at the time that it was not approved for public distribution. We just heard about what was in the report on Saturday, June 20th. Although the Skibiski family was able to obtain approval from the Attorney General to share the report publicly, the state still has not distributed the report to the public as mandated in the Section 106 process.
We also learned last weekend that Ludlow Construction was awarded the construction contract for this project (click here for more on that). Joe Hogan of MassDOT informed Laura Skibiski on Thursday, June 18th that they would start working on the property July 1st, 2020. Since then, the Attorney General has notified the Skibiski family that this date was pushed back to July 20th. Given the significance and importance of this historical site, the fact only 20% to 25% had been archaeologically excavated and removed with 75% to 80% remaining in harm’s way, we saw urgent community action was needed to save the site from destruction. City and state officials are in positions to help our community call for an immediate stop to the construction before it is too late. Our petition has had over 10,000 signatures so far, which is a good start.
We were inspired to join in this preservation effort after a discussion of the report last Saturday with two leading authorities on paleo period archaeology in the Northeast. Today, we received a copy of the state’s archaeological site report that verifies its historical importance and have been given permission to share it with you. It shows that this is a rare site, recommended for preservation and further study, with two characteristics qualifying it for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
Dr. Gramly, the Skibiskis' archaeologist, said the report confirmed his thoughts about the importance of the site. He said:
"I became interested in the site during Fall 2019 when it was reported in the local newspaper. I have investigated somewhat older sites in its neighborhood and to the north in the Town of Deerfield. After visiting the site at the invitation of the Skibiski family, and before it was seized by government agencies for planned highway improvements, I realized that likely much more remained to be explored. Access to written information about what was found, and the artifact evidence itself, proved to be impossible. We had to content ourselves with newspaper accounts and rumors until at long last, and through the offices of the Skibiskis’ lawyer—John Connor of Stobierski and Connor, Greenfield, MA—I was furnished a 164-page report dated February 18, 2020. This report confirmed an early site had been discovered and that artifacts recovered from it linked the ancient Connecticut River Valley populations to others in Maine, Maritime Canada, and even the American Northwest! Undoubtedly, other important remains will be discovered there should additional explorations be allowed. The possibility of finding “ritual features” is very real, and I base this prediction upon years of my own excavations across the American Midwest. Accounts of what we discovered there were published in several book-length publications, and I hope that something similar is done for the Skibiski village site. As a scientist, I will demand nothing less.”
Many thanks for your support. Ten thousand petition signatures, as well as a number of people who have reached out by email and phone are all showing that our community stands together to save this site from destruction. Our elected city and state officials are in positions to call for a stop to the construction/destruction planned to start in July:
Representative Lindsay Sabadosa
76 Gothic Street
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 270-1166
Senator Jo Comerford
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02133
Phone: (617) 722-1532
Executive Director & SHPO
Massachusetts Historical Commission
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125
Phone: (617) 727-8470
IMPORTANT: The Skibiski family received permission from the Attorney General to share the state’s archeological site report with the public. The State Archeologist still has not released it, but you can download it here. Note the summaries on pages 38 & 42.
10,000-year-old ‘once in a lifetime’ archaeological site in Northampton sparks fight over artifacts, access in roundabout project
by Jim Kinney | MassLive | 26 Jun 2020
NORTHAMPTON — An archaeological dig last summer that discovered remains of an 8,000- to 10,000-year-old settlement only scratched the surface of what is likely an artifact-rich site off Routes 5 and 10.
That’s according to Richard M. Gramly, an archaeologist hired by property owner John F. Skibiski Jr.
Work had been set to begin July 1 on a $3.4 million roundabout near the dig site, at what is now the sharply angled intersection of King and Hatfield streets. Work has been delayed by a lawsuit Skibiski filed in an effort to get more time for a larger excavation.
Help Stop the Destruction of a 10,000-Year-Old Ancient Native American Village Site NOW!
June 29th, 2020
A major roundabout road construction project at the intersection of Hatfield and North King Streets in Northampton is scheduled to begin July 1st, 2020, which will destroy a culturally and historically important Native American village site discovered directly in the path of the construction. There has only been one other village site from the Paleo period discovered in New England which was not previously disturbed by farming activities. Urgent community action is required to save this ancient site from imminent destruction by state road construction.
Two years of archaeological research revealed that ancestors of our Native American community members were living in this village near our Northampton store 10,000 years ago. For historical perspective, that is 5,000 years before the building of the pyramids in Egypt. According to Harvard Archaeologist Richard Michael Gramly, Ph. D., of North Andover, Massachusetts, "Lands along New England’s Connecticut River harbor important vestiges of early settlements dating from the Glacial epoch. This earliest cultural phase is characterized by people who hunted caribou as well as gathered plants, fish, and small game. Their lifestyle came to an end 10,000-11,000 calendar years ago when essentially modern environmental conditions prevailed. Archaeological sites documenting a transition to modern flora and fauna are rare in northeastern North America. Intact village sites of this early era that escaped later re-occupation are extraordinarily rare."
Before its taking by eminent domain, this site was on the property of John and Ann Skibiski, which abuts the south side of River Valley Co-op's North King Street store property in Northampton. A 2019 presentation at Historic Northampton outlined details of the findings, including two hearth sites and hundreds of artifacts from the excavation of just a small portion of the total archaeological site. Dr. Gramly reviewed the state’s archaeological site report (which has not been released to the public) and responded, "Stone artifacts, hearths, dietary remains, and ritual features, which by good fortune survived 10,000 years of burial, are precious to scholars and all students of the human past. This evidence links New England inhabitants with distant North American peoples of the same period. Therefore, it is shocking to learn that a partially-explored village site of this ancient era in Northampton, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, known as the Skibiski Site, is threatened with total destruction by non-essential highway construction. Expanded study of such a remarkable site, as well as its continuing preservation for future generations of New Englanders, command our attention and must be allowed to proceed without any interference."
The site was discovered two years ago as state workers began digging test pits in the soil in preparation for the construction planning of a roundabout. Last year, the state hired an archaeologist to evaluate the site, and preliminary findings were presented last fall at Historic Northampton. In November 2019, the state hired landscapers to bulldoze over the archaeological site and our neighbor, Laura Skibiski, had to call the police to get them to stop.
Over the winter, the construction project was defunded. We breathed a sigh of relief as we thought this happened because the archaeological site was too important to bulldoze and pave over. Unfortunately, we've recently learned this decision was reversed.
Lately, we’ve witnessed surveying activity taking place on the site. We discovered that, while we were all distracted by the pandemic, the project had been funded with federal stimulus funds and was going forward! We called our neighbor, John Skibiski, and learned the state had taken possession of the archaeological site by eminent domain. The Skibiski family no longer has the legal right to prevent the state from bulldozing over this 10,000 year old Native American village site. We also learned that the state has not made the archaeological report on the site public, despite being required by law to do so. Withholding this document from the public is probably why many people don’t know much about the site’s existence. The Skibiskis also had other concerns about the state's process, so they hired their own archaeologist to advise them.
On Saturday, we attended a presentation by Dr. Gramly, the archaeologist engaged by the Skibiski family. He discussed his professional observations and conclusions about the importance of this archaeological site including that, as an intact 10,000-year-old village, it is likely eligible for registration as a National Historic Site. Dr. Gramly believes this is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Americas from this time period. At this time, less than 25% of the site has been excavated and much more remains to be discovered.
On Sunday night, we had a follow-up talk with the Skibiski family and learned that the construction of the roundabout is scheduled to start on July 1, 2020. The construction includes cutting down over an acre of trees, some of which are 150-years-old, and paving over it. The construction will destroy the 10,000 year old village site with heavy equipment grading and excavating of the site before paving over the top.
Archaeologists, activists, and the Skibiski family are horrified that our community would allow our state and city to do this. We are too. We think it is because people do not know about it.
Joe Graveline, a past president and founding member of The Nolumbeka Project Inc., said "the plans to destroy this village site are an act of cultural erasure of Native American existence. This form of Native American cultural erasure has been going on here in the Valley for close to 50 years and it all starts at the top of the political food chain."
The co-op has long opposed this roundabout construction project due to far reaching economic concerns. Now, with the knowledge that an ancient Native American village site sits directly in the path of the construction, our opposition is even stronger and much more urgent. We cannot let this happen in our very own neighborhood without taking a stand and fighting for preservation.
We are supporting the Skibiski family’s efforts to preserve the site by sharing this information with our co-op owners. Here are links to visit their website and petition.
We need a lot of people to sign the petition and/or call Mayor David Narkewicz, President of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce Gina-Louise Sciarra, Senator Jo Comerford, Representative Lindsay Sabadosa and Executive Director of the MA Historical Commission Brona Simon to demand they take action to:
1. Stop construction immediately
2. Release the archaeological report to the public
3. Preserve the archaeological site
4. Seek a less destructive and disruptive solution to the traffic at that intersection (such as a stoplight)
This site needs to be preserved for future generations, just as Dr. Gramly says. To go forward with this project now, given the significant historical discovery of cultural importance, as well as scientific and historical record, would be a tragic loss for our community.
There isn't much time between now and July 1st when the construction (and destruction) is scheduled to begin, so this is very urgent. Contact information for city and state representatives is in the petition link below.
Next time the state sends bulldozers to destroy the 10,000-year-old Native American village site, the Skibiski family won't have the legal right to stop them. Our community must step up, join their efforts and call upon our city and state officials to stop the construction project and preserve this important ancient archaeological site now. Our mayor and state officials can stop the construction and save this 10,000-year-old village site. They need to hear from our community now.
Mayor David Narkewicz
210 Main Street
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 587-1249
Northampton City Council
210 Main Street #18
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 570-3133
Representative Lindsay Sabadosa
76 Gothic Street
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: (413) 270-1166
Senator Jo Comerford
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02133
Phone: (617) 722-1532
Executive Director & SHPO
Massachusetts Historical Commission
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125
Phone: (617) 727-8470
For more information: http://skibiski.com
To sign the petition: https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/preserve-the-10-000-year-old-undisturbed-ancient-village-in-northampton-ma
We closed on financing and purchased the property at 228 Northampton Street in Easthampton and construction is now underway! The new store, which was approved by the Easthampton Planning Board in March of 2019, is projected to open in the spring of 2021.
The Easthampton property includes the former Oldsmobile Pontiac car dealership, adjacent meadow and wetlands, as well as Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack, which recently signed a lease with the co-op. We plan to utilize approximately four acres of the property for the 23,000 square foot store, 200 parking spaces, outdoor seating, and Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack. The adjacent six-acre meadow and wetlands will be preserved as open green space.
We've been working with many local businesses on the site, building and construction plans, including Wright Builders, a local contractor specializing in green buildings, Thomas Douglas Architects, and the Berkshire Design Group.
We are also collaborating with Co-op Power and working with Solar Design Associates on the plans for the extensive solar electricity generation system, which will serve a dual purpose of generating as much electricity as we expect the Easthampton store to use on an annual basis and shading most of the parking lot. The HVAC system for the new store will use an air-based heat pump technology that operates on electricity, resulting in the use of renewable green energy, instead of fracked natural gas to fuel the heating needs for the 23,000 square foot building. The Hilltown Land Trust is donating some of the local sustainably forested trees, which will be milled into timbers by Lashway Lumber to build the front entrance of the new store.
The Center for EcoTechnology is providing recycling support, including the reuse and recycling of the materials from the existing car dealership building, which will be removed before building the new store. There is a relatively minor amount of asbestos abatement required before we can start. We plan to start that work next week and will expect to begin the demolition of the building the last week in February. Once the building has been removed, stay tuned for the announcement of the ground-breaking celebration on the site.
A big thank you to everyone for your support throughout the process! 300 co-op owners stepped up with individual loans, a local bank, bankESB, along with National Community Investment Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution, provided the mortgage loan. Officials from the City of Easthampton, as well as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stepped forward to support our project resulting in the City of Easthampton securing a MASSWorks grant. This grant will be used to fund and complete important roadway, intersection, turning lane, crosswalk, and sidewalk improvements related to our new store site. We also had support from Congressman Neal to assemble federal economic development funding through four community development organizations including, Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, National Community Investment Fund, Vermont Rural Ventures, and the Capital One Community Renewal Fund. These funds were all essential for our project to move forward.
With a total project cost of over $18 million, we couldn't have done this on our own. But by working together with our community, we succeeded!
Press Release Below!
February 12, 2020
A Collaboration of Co-op Owners, Community and Government Over Six Years
Over 300 Co-op Owners Individually Invest With $5 Million in Personal Loans
(Easthampton Northampton, MA) River Valley Co-op has announced that they have purchased nearly ten acres of property at 228 Northampton Street in Easthampton and that they will be proceeding with plans to build a cooperatively owned grocery store. The new store, which was approved by the Easthampton Planning Board in March of 2019, is projected to open in the spring of 2021.
The Northampton Street property includes the former Oldsmobile Pontiac car dealership, adjacent meadow and wetlands, as well as Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack, which recently signed a lease with the co-op. River Valley Co-op plans to utilize approximately four acres of the property for their 23,000 square foot store, 200 parking spaces, outdoor seating, and Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack. The adjacent six-acre meadow and wetlands will be preserved as open green space.
River Valley Co-op is a consumer-owned cooperative grocery launched in 2008 at 330 North King Street in Northampton. Over 11,000 community members cooperatively own this highly successful grocery business, which is open to the public daily and specializes in fresh, local and organically grown foods. The co-op already has 1,700 Easthampton area residents as owners and organizers are looking to increase the co-op ownership, employee base, and wholesale purchases from local food producers with this project.
The Easthampton store is planned to be about the same size as the co-op’s Northampton store, but with twice as much parking in a solar panel shaded parking lot. The Easthampton store will feature the same fresh local food selections they are well known for, including fresh local produce, meat and seafood, locally produced bread and cheese, bulk, and an extensive prepared foods department with a larger seating area inside and out.
The co-op is working with many local businesses on the site, building and construction plans, including Wright Builders, a local contractor specializing in green buildings, Thomas Douglas Architects, and the Berkshire Design Group. They are also collaborating with Co-op Power and working with Solar Design Associates on the plans for the extensive solar electricity generation system, which will serve a dual purpose of generating as much electricity as the co-op expects to use on an annual basis and shading most of the parking lot. The HVAC system for the new store will use an air-based heat pump technology that operates on electricity, resulting in the use of renewable green energy, instead of fracked natural gas to fuel the heating needs for the 23,000 square foot building. The Hilltown Land Trust is donating some of the local sustainably forested trees, which will be milled into timbers by Lashway Lumber to build the front entrance of the new store. The Center for EcoTechnology is providing recycling support, including the reuse and recycling of the materials from the existing car dealership building, which will be removed before building the new store.
Wright Builders Operations Manager, Linda Gaudreau said, "It has been a pleasure working with the City departments and people at the DPW on the permits for this project. As I submitted the building permit, I found myself at once proud to be part of bringing the River Valley Co-op project forward, and as an Easthampton resident, I felt pride in my hometown!”
Board President Dorian Gregory said, “The seeds of this project to grow the co-op were sown in 2014 in a retreat on a Saturday, at the Florence Civic Center, with fifty co-op owners, local vendors, employees, and Board members that met to draft a vision for the future. Small groups discussed the current business challenges, beneficial community impacts, and ideas for the future of the cooperative. They reported back to the large group with a unified vision for opening additional locations. Cooperatives exist to serve the vision and needs of their owners. We view a vibrant, locally based food system essential to building sustainable communities. River Valley Co-op has demonstrated how a food business rooted in the community effectively works to fuel a local economic engine that serves that community, instead of exporting profits out of it.”
Gregory described the many steps in the process of making a business decision in a community-owned cooperative:
- The vision was reported to the co-op’s ownership in newsletter articles and in annual meetings.
- Surveys of the co-op’s owners showed a very high level of support for growing the co-op and the good things the co-op brings to the community through its business operations.
- Management prepared and implemented a strategic plan to support the co-op vision including, a two stage remodel (2014-2015) of the current store in Northampton.
- A site search was launched, and multiple sites were reviewed for potential feasibility.
- Market studies were completed, Wright Builders, Berkshire Design, the National Co-op Grocers Development Co-op and others were engaged for technical support throughout feasibility studies to identify the preferred site.
- An option to purchase the Easthampton property was successfully negotiated in January 2018.
- The last two years included an extensive due diligence process, detailed design, budgeting, permitting, fundraising and financing.
Easthampton Mayor Nicolle LaChapelle said, “In a time where community vision best serves its residents, River Valley Co-op brings that vision to life with their closing on the former Oldsmobile Pontiac car dealership property. It also speaks to Easthampton as a city that continues to open its arms to innovative business concepts.”
River Valley Co-op General Manager Rochelle Prunty is enthusiastic about the new store location, “The location is ideally sized for our store operations and customer access. The new store positons the co-op well for taking the next step in better serving our community. Easthampton's River Valley Co-op store will add to the already vibrant locally owned business culture in Easthampton by supporting more local food producers with more wholesale purchases. It will create 100 new jobs within the next five years to support the store’s daily operations. The Easthampton store will provide thousands more community members access to the co-op’s products, services, and cooperative ownership.”
River Valley Co-op’s vision for growing a sustainable local food system and strengthening the locally-based economy inspired community teamwork with hundreds of individuals and organizations that made this project possible. Alex Risley Schroeder, Board Clerk member said, "It was just heartwarming to see so many people working together to help us meet the funding needs for this project! Our Directors got on the phones and more than 300 co-op owners stepped up with individual loans totaling over $5 million. At a total cost of over $18 million, this is not the kind of project we could do on our own, but by working together with our community, we succeeded!”
A local bank, bankESB, along with National Community Investment Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution, provided the mortgage loan. “bankESB is pleased to be the lead lending partner for the planned River Valley Co-op in Easthampton—we are also excited to welcome River Valley and its customers as our neighbors on Northampton Street,” said Dena M. Hall, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer at bankESB.
Rochelle Prunty, General Manager said, “Officials from the City of Easthampton as well as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stepped forward to support our project resulting in the City of Easthampton securing a MASSWorks grant. This grant will be used to fund and complete important roadway, intersection, turning lane, crosswalk, and sidewalk improvements related to our new store site. We also had support from Congressman Neal to assemble federal economic development funding through four community development organizations including, Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, National Community Investment Fund, Vermont Rural Ventures, and the Capital One Community Renewal Fund. The Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation and the Co-op Fund of New England also participated in the financing for the project. These funds were all essential for our project to move forward.”
Congressman Richard Neal said, “Today’s announcement of the purchase of the property in Easthampton for the new River Valley Co-op is a welcome one and another positive step toward the opening of this local business. The River Valley team was able to take advantage of New Markets Tax Credits to advance this project and I am glad to have been able to assist them in obtaining those funds. Simply put, this project depended on them. I look forward to the cooperative grocery store’s next steps and continue to be a proud supporter of their growth.”
Emily Laine, Board Member and Easthampton resident, “I’m inspired and filled with gratitude for the amazing level of community support for launching the co-op in Easthampton. I am very excited about all the good things that will grow with the co-op: more support for local farmers and food producers, more full-time union jobs, solar energy generated on-site, and more accessible local and organically grown foods. Together we are growing something really good!”
Since opening eleven years ago in Northampton, the co-op has purchased $46 million of products from 400 local farmers and producers, contributed over $1 million to area nonprofit organizations, offered hundreds of free workshops, and provides a minimum starting hourly wage of $15 with 165 employees, 90 percent of them full time. The co-op’s workforce is represented by the UFCW Local 1459.
For more information contact:
To view our Easthampton Expedition Videos which highlights Why Expand, Wright Builders, Board Perspective on Expansion and more please visit: https://vimeo.com/showcase/6218624 and https://vimeo.com/showcase/6680330
River Valley Co-op Announces Easthampton Store Financing Team Assembled
October 3rd, 2019
(Easthampton Northampton, MA) Today, the co-op is pleased to announce they are working with Easthampton Savings Bank and three community development organizations to secure the funding for the new food cooperative in Easthampton. The community development organizations include the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, Vermont Rural Ventures, and National Community Investment Fund. Over 300 co-op owners from the community have already made individual loans totaling $5,164,000 to support opening the food co-op in Easthampton. The co–op will combine its co-op owner loans with traditional bank financing and economic development funding for a total of $18 million to open the new food co-op. River Valley Co-op Board President Steve Bruner said, “River Valley Co-op’s Easthampton store is being developed by the community, for the community!”
The economic development funding comes through a federal program called New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) to incentivize investment focused on creating jobs as well as providing essential community goods and services in qualifying census tracts. River Valley Co-op launched its Northampton store construction project in 2007 with support from this program in conjunction with a high level of community support. General Manager Rochelle Prunty expressed gratitude for the support of this economic development program (NMTC) for the Easthampton store project as well. “This program makes possible what would otherwise be impossible for a community owned business to accomplish on its own. We would have never been able to open our Northampton store without this funding in 2007, and we wouldn’t be launching the Easthampton store project in 2020 without this support either.”
“I have long been a champion of the New Markets Tax Credit program because I see how they are used to transform communities and the lives of people who live there,” said Congressman Richard E. Neal. “When NMTCs were on the chopping block during the Republican Tax Bill debate, I made sure that they were saved because they support real, positive impact on our communities and their economies. I am confident that the expansion of the River Valley Co-op here in Easthampton will be no different. Congratulations to Mayor LaChapelle and her team, as well as the entire River Valley Co-op delegation who are ensuring that this project will come to fruition with smart reinvestment and revitalization. I am happy to be a partner.”
This economic development financing requires the cooperative to secure the support of multiple mission-driven community development organizations to aggregate enough tax credits to draw an investor to the project at the needed funding level. The funds will supplement bank financing and other significant funding already raised through community organizing to support the community focused local food and triple bottom line mission of River Valley Co-op’s Easthampton store project.
Prunty explained, “Our project was well received by many community development organizations, but the tax credit allocations were more competitive than in past years. In partnership with our consultants, internal team, Congressman Neal and Mayor LaChapelle, we successfully brought together the support to complete the NMTC economic development funding that the project qualifies for this year. We are so grateful for the breadth and depth of the local support, that is what really makes the difference in securing funding our project. We are very appreciative of the teamwork involved on many levels that is bringing this all together in our community.”
Easthampton Mayor LaChapelle said, “This announcement shows the tremendous collective efforts by the River Valley team and Congressman Neal’s leadership on the Ways and Means Committee. It is an honor to work with them in bringing good-paying jobs and new revenue to Easthampton.”
Emily Laine, River Valley Co-op Board Member said “As a resident of Easthampton I’m inspired and filled with gratitude for the amazing level of community support for launching the co-op in Easthampton. I am very excited about all the good things that will grow with the co-op: more support for local farmers and food producers, more full-time union jobs, solar energy generated on-site, and more accessible local and organically grown foods. Together we are growing something really good!”
Since opening eleven years ago in Northampton, the co-op has purchased $46 million of products from 420 local farmers and producers, contributed over $1 million to area nonprofit organizations, offered hundreds of free workshops, and has a minimum starting hourly wage of $15 with 165 employees, 90% of them fulltime. The co-op’s workforce is represented by the UFCW Local 1459. The co-op looks forward to serving the community even better by supporting more local farmers and producers along with adding 100 new jobs within five years of opening the store in Easthampton. For more information see: http://rivervalley.coop
Easthampton approves plan to build River Valley Co-op
EASTHAMPTON — River Valley Co-op expects to open its second store during summer 2020 at the location of the former automobile dealership Fedor Oldsmobile Pontiac on Route 10.
The cooperatively owned market will construct a 22,000-square-foot store, and it will help finance infrastructure improvements to address city officials’ concerns of traffic at the corner of Lyman and Northampton streets.
“We want to take a little pressure off of our Northampton store, and this opening will allow us to add more co-op owners in both locations,” said Rochelle Prunty, general manager of River Valley, on Tuesday. “It will also really help expand the market for all our local farmers and food producers.”
The new co-op will better serve its nearly 1,700 co-op owners in the Easthampton and Southampton area, Prunty said. The co-op in Northampton has a total of 10,500 co-op owners.
Captain Jack’s Roadside Shack, which is on the market’s property, will lease from River Valley and remain open for business.
For the full article, click here.
River Valley Co-op Expansion my Third Outlook Focus
I’ve shared two of the stories I wrote this year for the Springfield Republican’s annual Outlook section on the region’s business and economy. One on Lili Dwight and the fire alarm app she is developing and one on Crooked Stick Pops of Easthampton.
Today’s blog features the third Outlook piece I wrote for editor Cynthia Simison; it’s on River Valley Co-op in Northampton. This market is a hot spot in the Valley, and its growth over the years has been tremendous. My housemate Craig Fear is a steadfast member and shopper, as are many of my friends.
It was a privilege to interview these leaders in the local food industry.
River Valley Co-op
Our Family Farms sold milk at the River Valley Co-op when the store first opened in April 2008, a time when small businesses in the country were struggling as a result of the Great Recession. “One of the owners of the local dairy cooperative came to our 2009 annual meeting,” said Rochelle Prunty, River Valley’s general manager since 2001. “They talked about how the economy hit them so hard.” She teared up with emotion, struggling to add, “But because the co-op opened, that’s what helped them get through it. They were able to keep their farm.”
Prunty is incredibly grateful about this kind of success story and the fact that the natural foods co-op has helped launch—and sustain—many other local farms. The business, which sells local and organic products, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018 with various events, including a birthday party in April 2018 and partial sponsorship of Easthampton’s Millpond.Live music series in the summer.
Since it first incorporated in 1999 and began selling co-op ownership shares at $150 per—the same one-time fee for the privilege today—the co-op has grown to 10,200 owners and 160 employees, over 90 percent of whom are full time. It sees $28 million in annual sales—more than twice what was predicted by its founders. This is no small feat in a competitive market that has suffered from online sales and fierce industry competition.
“In 10 years, we’ve purchased $40 million in local products that have gone into the community,” Prunty said. “We’ve made contributions to local nonprofits every year, totaling over $800,000 in 10 years. It feels like a really symbiotic relationship with the community. Because we’re independent and community owned, we’re able to adapt and evolve as needed with the changing times.”
Prunty, board president Andrea Stanley—also a farmer in Hadley and the owner of Valley Malt—, and Natasha Latour, the co-op’s marketing manager, agree that the co-op’s overwhelming popularity and growth came because it meets the needs of Valley residents. “It’s never about making the sale or making the money,” Prunty said. “The food meets peoples’ needs. Supporting local farmers meets peoples’ values. And in the process, we build community.”
“We’re set up to sell what people want to buy,” she added. “Corporate supermarkets are set up to sell what big manufacturers want people to buy.”
High volume at the co-op means the parking lot and the aisles are over-crowded. This has Prunty and the board looking to expand in Easthampton on property formerly owned by Fedor Pontiac Oldsmobile on Route 10. The co-op already has 1,700 owners in Easthampton, and the dealership property, sitting on over four acres of buildable land, seems ideal.
Prunty said co-op leaders are looking at the feasibility of building a roughly 20,000-square-foot grocery store, considering financing and building costs. “We’re looking to break ground in July 2019 and open in July 2020,” she said, adding, “This is not yet a done deal. We expect to finalize our plans, fundraising, and secure financing for a final decision by June of 2019.”
She said the projection is that the second location could bring in about $14 million in annual sales. “Easthampton is a community that supports local entrepreneurs. It’s incubating lots of different kinds of local businesses,” Prunty said. “That kind of thinking, and that kind of spirit has good synergy with what we do, and it feels like a good match.”
Click here for the full article.
River Valley Co-op Implements $15 Minimum Wage Starting January 7th
Union and Co-op Collaboration Achieves New Minimum Wage Four Years Ahead of State Mandate
(Northampton, MA) Leadership of the UFCW, Local 1459, representing the staff of River Valley Co-op, and the leadership of River Valley Co-op announce today that the co-op launched a $15/hr minimum wage effective immediately, four years ahead of the state mandate. Co-op workers ratified a 3-year contract Friday January 4th marking the successful conclusion of the collective bargaining process on their third successive labor contract since 2011.
Jeff Jones, representing UFCW, Local 1459 said of the new agreement; "This is a big stride forward in strengthening economic well-being and security for the workers. This agreement was ratified with 96% approval by workers as well as enthusiasm from management. Together we’ve developed a 3-year contract to carry us through the potential of the co-op opening a second location and expanding their union workforce in Easthampton. The new contract positions River Valley Co-op for continued growth as a leading union employer in our community. This is good for the workers, the co-op, and the communities the co-op serves. Everyone can feel good about where we are headed!”
Rochelle Prunty, River Valley Co-op’s General Manager concurred with Jones, “This $15 minimum wage is a great thing for our employees! Our goal is to have the best retail jobs in the area and we are very happy about launching the $15 minimum wage now because they really deserve it! Over 90% of our staff are full time with excellent benefits and a voice in their workplace. This keeps our turnover far below the status quo for retail grocery and contributes to our overall success.”
Union Steward Olivia Vicioso described her experience on the collective bargaining team for the new contract as a positive one, “Crafting a new contract was like being part of a think tank. Our only constraints were our imagination and of course feasibility, acceptability, and benefit to the purpose at hand: a safe, functional, and progressive work place that meets both staff and management needs. I’m so proud of our team for approaching this new contract with compassion, empathy, and open-mindedness and for ensuring that each team member had an equal voice at the table.”
Prunty added, “Our approach to collective bargaining is a cooperative approach. We really value the collective aspect of collective bargaining by focusing on shared interests and values for collaborative problem-solving as one team working together to develop solutions. With this approach, naturally we get better solutions and stronger commitment to them. For us, collective bargaining work helps builds a foundation of trust and teamwork. We don’t focus on positions like typical negotiations are done, we focus on developing solutions. It works because we all really do have shared values and interests in the co-op’s success.”
"On behalf of the ownership of the co-op, we are proud to hear that our staff, union, and management came to this agreement together. Our staff are dedicated and passionate about the mission of the co-op and they deserve to make a decent living that reflects the value of the work they perform every day. Grocery is a $650 billion industry and there are about 38,000 grocery stores in America. We all know that grocery stores are more than just a place to buy food. They are a reflection of our culture. They illuminate what we care about. In the face of increasing corporate consolidation and control of the food system, it is more important than ever to support workers’ rights, local businesses, and cooperative and environmentally sustainable businesses of all kinds," said Andrea Stanley, River Valley Co-op Board President.
Over the past 10 years River Valley Co-op:
- Made wholesale purchases of nearly $40 million worth of local foods from the 400 local food producers they partner with.
- Increased its cooperative ownership to over 10,000 area families.
- Supported community non-profits with over $800,000 in donations, sponsorships, and in-kind donations.
- Hosted hundreds of free workshops related to health, sustainability, and more.
River Valley Co-op is in the process of developing plans for opening a second location in Easthampton. No final decisions have been made, however the co-op has a purchase option on property at 228 Northampton Street and is actively exploring feasibility of its plans. The co-op leadership says that a final decision will be contingent on financing and financial feasibility, a decision to purchase and start construction is hoped for by the summer of 2019 with a goal of opening in the summer of 2020.
“We have built something very special in our community by coming together to build a consumer owned cooperative grocery to serve the community. Growing this local cooperative business grows good things in our community,” said Rochelle Prunty, River Valley Co-op General Manager. “I deeply appreciate all the hard work our 150+ employees put into making it happen every day!”
For more information contact:
Rochelle Prunty, General Manager River Valley Co-op: (413) 341-5686, x-106 (office)
River Valley Co-op is a consumer-owned cooperative grocery store specializing in fresh local foods located at 330 North King Street, Northampton. Open to Everyone 8AM-10PM Everyday.
Jeff Jones, UFCW Local 1459: firstname.lastname@example.org 413 732-9699, x-118
Jeff Jones is a Vice President and Union Staff Representative for UFCW Local 1459 serving approximately 5,000 members in the four western counties of Massachusetts and southern Vermont.
Why is the co-op including pro-nouns on staff nametags?
Pronouns are a way in which people are referred to in place of their name (e.g. "he" or "she" or "they" or "ze" etc.).
You may have noticed pronouns on some of our co-op staff nametags and linen items. Our goal is to make it easier for everyone to use the correct pronouns when addressing someone. Someone's gender is not always a visible thing, and clear markers like pronouns on nametags can help us all to use the right ones when addressing employees.
We came to agreement on pronouns on nametags after several weekly staff meeting conversations, (including those who may be most affected by gendered assumptions).
We determined that displaying pronouns in this way supports making us more inclusive, supportive and welcoming allies. We decided against requiring everyone to include their pronouns. Those who don't select specific pronouns display “everyone is welcome” on their nametags as an alternative way to participate in showing support for the value of inclusivity.
It can be harmful or distressing to be addressed by the wrong pronouns, even accidentally. Adding pronouns to nametags is a way that we can help to avoid incorrect gender assumptions in addressing co-op staff members, and in helping to make everyone feel safe and welcome. We hope that this will add to the inclusiveness and solidarity we enjoy here at the co-op amongst our employees, our customers, and our vendors.
Check your Mailbox!
Vouchers will be mailed in March of 2018 and owners may redeem them as cash, use them to make purchases at the co-op, or donate them to the nonprofit selected by the Board of Directors.`
Corporations distribute their earnings or profits based on how much each shareholder has invested in the business. In a corporation, investors earn profits on other people’s purchases. In a consumer owned cooperative, the structure for the distribution of earnings is radically different. Co-ops distribute the profits made on your own purchases to you. In a co-op the shareholders are also the people making purchases from the co-op business they own, and everyone owns just one equal share of the business.
Your purchases (patronage) are the primary funding for operating the co-op. Earnings on your purchases are called Patronage Dividends. Like any business, a co-op needs earnings for reinvestment in the business to maintain the facility and equipment, etc. Consumer co-ops rely heavily on earnings from purchases to ]capitalize their business. Typically up to 80% of the earnings from your purchases are held in your name as retained patronage dividends by the cooperative to fund its capital needs, and 20% is rebated in cash[ to you. This rebate is called a Patronage Dividend Rebate, or sometimes simply a Patronage Rebate.
This system for reinvesting earnings in the cooperative and rebating a portion to the co-op owners was developed at the start of the cooperative movement that dates back to the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers food co-op in Northern England in 1844. This has been a standard practice for most cooperatives ever since.
For every one dollar spent at the co-op during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017, 64.5 cents was paid to our suppliers for the products you purchased, 23.5 cents went to personnel costs, 4.6 cents covered the cost of the facility, 1.6 cents to advertising, and 4.6 cents covered other operating expenses. The remaining 1.2 cents is the net income earned before taxes.
The total patronage dividend for the year was $219,000. To support the financial stability of the co-op, 80% ($175,200) is retained as an allocated patronage dividend, which the co-op holds in your name for reinvestment in the co-op. The intrinsic value of our retained patronage lies in the fact that we are in this together for the long haul, and we will all share in the expected future benefits to be derived from managing our resources responsibly.
What is the deadline for redeeming my voucher?
You must take action to redeem your patronage dividend rebate voucher by June 30, 2018 so that the funds will qualify as allocated patronage dividends. If you take no action on your voucher by then, your rebate will automatically be donated to the Co-op Community Fund and the Food Co-op Initiative.
What is the total amount of the patronage dividend rebate?
River Valley Co-op is sharing $43,800 of its earnings for the year ended June 30, 2017 with its owners. $175,200 in additional patronage dividends will be retained for the capital needs of the cooperative.
*How do I qualify?
You must be an owner of River Valley Co-op who made a minimum of $420 in purchases, excluding beer and wine (MA state law requires beer and wine purchases be excluded) between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017.
What method for redeeming the voucher is best for the co-op?
All options keep the $43,800 in circulation in our extended cooperative community–all methods are beneficial.
River Valley Co-op and UFCW Local 1459 Complete Successful Mediation Process
July 3, 2017
(Northampton, MA) Leadership of the UFCW, Local 1459, representing the staff of River Valley Co-op, and the management of River Valley Co-op announce today that they met on Monday, June 26th and Tuesday, June 27th for a successful mediation over issues of interest to both parties. With the use of Interest Based Problem Solving, the two parties reached mutual agreement concerning compensation for shuttle time to and from an offsite staff parking lot, as well as increased wages for the lowest-paid employees at River Valley Co-op. The concerted activity grievance was also successfully resolved. Both the Union and the Co-op have renewed their commitment to moving forward with a mutually supportive working relationship.
Jeff Jones, representing UFCW, Local 1459 said of the mediation; "Under the facilitation of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,(FMCS), River Valley Co-op and the Union Bargaining Committee completed a successful two-day mediation. The long-standing issue of parking has been resolved as well as the role of concerted activity in the workplace. I feel this paves the way for the Co-op to grow and extend further into the community."
"We all felt our community rooting for us to resolve these issues, including our nearly 10,000 co-op owners and their families, our many customers, and the nearly 400 local farmers and food producers we partner with as suppliers. Our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the UFCW Local 1459 includes excellent systems that proved their effectiveness this week for resolving a conflict and improving teamwork between the Union and Coop at the same time. Renewing our commitment to use these systems was central to our success in reaching this resolution for the key people we are both here for; River Valley Co-op's staff. With strengthened teamwork, the collective capacity of our 150+ employees to better serve our co-op owners, customers, vendors and the broader community is also strengthened," said Rochelle Prunty, River Valley Co-op General Manager.
"A successful community cooperative grocery business is key to maintaining and building a vibrant, resilient local food system and locally based economy. The Co-op is proud to stand with the labor movement as a union employer. In the face of increasing corporate consolidation and control of the food system supporting cooperative businesses, other local businesses, and the labor movement are all more important than ever!" said Dorian Gregory, River Valley Co-op Board President.
For more information contact: Jeff Jones Union Representative UFCW Local 1459: (413) 387-9194 (cell); Rochelle Prunty, General Manager River Valley Co-op: (413) 559-7499 (cell)
River Valley Co-op is a consumer-owned cooperative grocery store specializing in fresh local foods located at 330 North King Street, Northampton. Open to Everyone 8AM-10PM.
Co-op 2nd Store Site Search Update
June 12, 2017
We want to let you know that we are continuing to explore locations for a second store. We are prioritizing locations that are close enough to take some pressure off our current store by serving some of our current co-op customer owners but also, far enough away to serve new potential co-op customer owners.
Many of you may remember our current location did not meet all our store site criteria and we passed over it in favor of the pursuit of better retail options repeatedly before we accepted that it was the best realistically feasible option for us. I've often said we found ourselves between a rock and hard place in the site search for our original store and the hard place made the rock look good.
What made our current location feasible was that 1) absolutely no one else wanted it, 2) it was in the right proximity to a large number of our current and potential co-op owners, 3) there was support for unconventional financing which defrayed the added costs of developing the unconventional site.
As it turned out, even though our current location was not plan A, B, C, or even D...it has been a very good location for launching our cooperative. So good in fact, that we quickly grew to over double what we had anticipated for total sales volume by our 10th year in our 9th year of business. The result is that our current facility does not have the capacity we need to fully serve our community's growing needs as comfortably or as well as we'd like for both customers and staff going forward.
Which brings us back to the second store site search. Working with our real estate broker and second store development team we have found that our two most preferred options are not feasible due to higher than anticipated costs. The commercial real estate market in our area remains on the high end, while competitive conditions for retailers have resulted in pressure to lower development and overhead costs as much as possible.
The result of this real estate/retail business dynamic is that we have turned our focus to seeking out and evaluating some lower rated locations in the commercial real estate market in search of something potentially more affordable in the right general area. We are also exploring potential co-op friendly development partners that could help support some of the financial load for the co-op to be part of a larger development.
Real estate is a very competitive business so we need to keep the specific location details confidential until we are able to secure an agreement with contingencies. That agreement will provide security for us to proceed with our due diligence and community fundraising to finalize our arrangements without fear of losing the site to someone who comes along offering a higher price. A site tends to look more enticing to others when they see someone else wants it so we want
ensure we have an agreement with contingencies for final decision-making on a site before discussing it with our co-op owners and publicly.
So far, we've not succeeded in reaching such an agreement on our two preferred sites and we are now actively exploring alternatives. We expect about a 1.5 to 2-year timeline from securing a site to opening.
If you have a great idea for a location please do pass it on to me so that we can confidentially explore the feasibility. We are seeking commercially zoned real estate that is reasonably accessible to a portion of our current customer base as well as strong potential for serving additional customers for whom we are not currently as accessible. You can call email me: email@example.com or call:
We have many value-driven goals in our mission that will be positively impacted by successfully expanding our operations to multiple stores. In the meantime, thank you for your ongoing support!
Shire City Herbals and the Free Fire Cider Campaign
January 14, 2017
Second open letter to our Membership, Shire City Herbals and the Free Fire Cider campaign:
As of this time, we will be discontinuing the sale of the Fire Cider® made by Shire City Herbals because of the legal action they have taken against community herbalists for using a traditional remedy and term. This decision is not made lightly.
In our last public statement regarding this issue, back in June of 2015, we did our best to remain neutral, urging Shire City Herbals and all parties involved to find a peaceful and equitable resolution to the conflicts over the trademark issue. A year and a half later, we do not consider Shire City Herbals’ actions to be working in that direction.
We had hoped that by stocking multiple fire cider options and encouraging public discourse we could support everyone. We no longer wish to remain neutral on this issue, and in good conscience now choose to remove Shire City Herbals’ product from our store.
We appreciate the work Shire City Herbals has done to bring popular attention to this traditional remedy. It is unusual for us to have a local supplier with such a successful and effective product in our Wellness Department, and we were excited and proud to promote them in the past. (see the article in our Winter 2014 member newsletter http://rivervalleymarket.coop/newsletter/newsletter-archives )
The fact remains that the term “fire cider” was not created by Shire City Herbals and had been in use by herbalists all over the country long before they started making their product. Shire City Herbals did not invent this formula. Decades ago, the basic recipe was published with that name, in a book by Rosemary Gladstar.
Shire City Herbals initially stated that they trademarked the term solely to protect themselves from a larger entity stealing their success and trademarking it for themselves. They do not support the campaign to officially and legally make “fire cider” a generic term, available to all, stating that this is not possible. Instead, Shire City Herbals has brought legal action against three herbalists: Katheryn Langelier, Mary Blue and Nicole Telkes, and has sent intimidating letters to many other small herbal producers using the name “fire cider” to sell their own versions of the folk remedy. This legal action was in part a response to a petition filed with the USPTO by Mary Blue, made as an attempt to revoke the Fire Cider® trademark.
We know that many others share our dismay over this issue, thanks to feedback we have received over the last few years from co-op owners, customers and the herbal community at large. Thank you for your concern and engagement regarding this issue. We will continue to stock other brands of this remedy and will do our best to help you find one that you like.
Rochelle Prunty Marah MacRostie
General Manager Wellness Department Manager
Why the Co-op Posted Welcome to Immigrants and Black Lives Matter Yard Signs
The display of these yard signs at the co-op, is an expression of support for people of color, immigrants, and refugees who face an increasing barrage of demeaning, hateful, and threatening messages and actions as a result of racism in our society. It is a way of bringing all kinds of people together to reflect on these issues. Both yard signs are initiatives to stimulate dialogue, inspire reflection, raise awareness, and support the development of a community narrative that brings people together to stand against racism, discrimination, and oppression. These yard signs help build community awareness. With over ten thousand weekly co-op shoppers we can help reach a lot of people while also showing as a community owned business, we stand with people of color, immigrants, and refugees against racism. These signs are an expression of our co-op's values and the role we have in community stewardship as a community owned business.
Co-ops have a long history of combining cooperatively owned business operations with social justice values. In the 19th century cooperatives were active in the abolitionist movement, and in the 20th-century co-ops were part of the civil rights and sustainable agriculture movements.
Like co-op communities of the 19th and 20th centuries, we have continuing social justice challenges in the 21st century including racism and a rise in discrimination against immigrants and refugees. These are issues that impact our community. As a community driven business, we care about that. Displaying these yard signs to express our values is one way we are supporting our community in the face of these larger societal issues.
Black Lives Matter started as a Black dignity campaign, and that is a message we believe all can come together to support. It is also a campaign to raise community awareness of how racism and racial bias impacts many aspects of our society and institutions including law enforcement. It is a campaign against race based violence. It is a campaign against institutional racism. It is a campaign for communities to come together to reflect on the impacts of racism on our communities all across the country. It is a campaign to bring us together in understanding so that we can all affirm the message that black lives do matter. And it is a campaign to inspire us all to work to undo racism.
We know not everyone has the same perspective on this just like any number of other things. Some have interpreted Black Lives Matter as excluding other people. It was never intended to mean no one else matters or specify that any particular others don't matter and that is not the message we intend. This campaign has also been misconstrued as an anti- police campaign, we reject that interpretation as well. We consider these interpretations not at all in line with the message of the campaign and not the message the co-op is communicating.
The Black Lives Matter sign is intended to be welcoming, affirmative and supportive as is the sign welcoming immigrants and refugees. It is an expression of the co-op's social justice values. Posting these yard signs at the co-op is just one small step to support a healthy community dialogue on these important issues. We know it takes more than a couple yard signs to address racism. We don't intend to imply we have all the answers but we feel a responsibility to be part of the discussion. Our larger goal is to support a narrative leading to a wider common understanding of how racism impacts all of us which we believe will bring people together to address it on all levels: from personal to community to the institutional and public policy level.
Race and Food Co-ops
River Valley Co-op helped to fund a project with other food co-ops to explore the topic of race in food co-ops. The purpose is to develop greater understanding of this issue within food co-ops and to create some tools for change. Our own Board Member Jade Barker was one of the leaders on this project. We were excited to see the recently completed result of the first phase of this project.
The first part of the project is starting the conversation with a variety of co-op and social justice leaders as a springboard for engaging food co-op leaders and stakeholders in these important discussions.
You can read more about the project addressing the issue of race in food co-ops here: http://library.cdsconsulting.coop/everyone-welcome-personal-narratives/
Thank you for your support.