Background & History

Workers and their horses in the quarry at what is now 330 North King Street

Opened April 30, 2008, our co-op was built into a bowl-shaped site carved from the granite hillside between 1900-1934. Stone from this hill was used to build King St. and Routes 5 & 10. The quarry operations left the site with a flat plateau surrounded by granite cliffs rising on three sides. The cliff acts as a natural barrier between the cooperative store operations and surrounding residential areas. It also provides a beautiful setting for our community food store.

Our 15,000 sq. foot green-constructed building has a deli seating area; fresh produce, meat, and seafood departments; a wellness department; beer and wine; bulk foods; cheese, dairy, grocery and more!

History & Timeline

Our co-op story begins…

1997 Community members meet at Forbes Library to discuss the development of a consumer-owned store in Northampton.

1998 A series of meetings at the Northampton Fresh Pasta Company leads to the formation of a Steering Committee, a Site Search Committee and an Outreach Committee.

1999 The co-op incorporates as Northampton Community Cooperative Market, Inc. A Board of Directors is established alongside an e-news service, providing regular updates and news about the new co-op. The Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture and Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture [CISA] award the co-op with planning grants, and a feasibility study is conducted.

2000 The co-op receives a development grant from the Northampton-based Solidago Foundation, a Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a generous donation from an anonymous family foundation. A business plan is formulated with the Cooperative Development Institute and CDS Consulting. Membership exceeds over 200. In a historic first Annual Meeting and first vote, member-owners choose the name “River Valley Market.”
 

Making the vision a reality

2001 CDS Consulting completes its first market study, and the Hill and Dale Mall is chosen as a strong candidate for a potential site. Board policies for governance are adopted and Rochelle Prunty is hired as General Manager. Plan B Design is hired for architectural and construction planning. Negotiations with the Hill and Dale property owner fall through and a new site search begins. Total membership hits a milestone, reaching 1,000 owners by the end of the year.

2002 Member-owners vote to continue searching for a site in Northampton and negotiations begin on the Potpourri Mall site soon after. The co-op receives a $25,000 grant from Mass Development. The Green Team is formed and creates a design charrette. A co-op member-owner survey is conducted with a 70% response rate. Membership reaches 1,300.

2003 The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative provides a $400,000+ Green Building Grant and the co-op purchases a liquor license. Detailed plans are developed for the Potpourri Mall site, but they are shelved when a deed restriction is found prohibiting grocery sales. The salaried General Manager position is temporarily halted, but Rochelle continues to work with the Board of Directors on a volunteer basis. Members vote to continue efforts to secure a store location as total ownership reaches 1,500.

2004 Cooperative Grocers’ Association Northeast [CGANE] provides $100,000 to the building of our co-op, leveraging a $50,000 business planning advance from the National Cooperative Bank Development Corporation [NCBDC]. The National Cooperative Bank [NCB] extends a $100,000 line of credit. The salaried General Manager position is reinstated on a part-time basis, then full-time soon after. The North King Street Old Quarry site is secured with long term land lease agreement. Community forums are organized to discuss a plan for the Old Quarry site. Berkshire Design Group is hired for the site planning, while the Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund and Coastal Enterprises begin work on tax credit financing. Co-op Power begins to manage the Green Building Grant, which is transferred to the new site.

2005 The City of Northampton approves the site rezoning, as well as a site development plan and special permit. The City of Northampton Community Development Block Grant is also approved. A business plan is soon finalized and preliminary construction budgets are developed. A member loan campaign raises $1 million dollars as ownership totals peak at 1,600.

2006 The co-op signs the lease and officially takes over the Old Quarry site. A general contractor is selected. Membership exceeds 1,800 and meets equity goals for financing requirements. A financing plan is developed with the Bank of Western Massachusetts, CEI Capital, TransCapital, the Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund, National Cooperative Bank Capital Impact, the Cooperative Fund of New England, and the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund. Florence Savings Bank also agrees to provide support.

2007 The co-op closes on all financing and construction begins. The community celebrates the occasion with a groundbreaking ceremony. Member-owners from River Valley Co-op and Woodlands Timber Cooperative raise a timber frame porch in front of the store. Total ownership reaches over 2,000!

2008 Construction on the green building is completed. Member-owner volunteers plant native perennials on the store site and an entryway tile art project is installed. Five job fairs are held at the Franklin-Hampshire Career Center, with hundreds of interviews conducted and approximately 70 staff members hired. Total co-op ownership exceeds 2,500 just in time for our opening day!
 

Our first store opens… and the real work starts!

The co-op exceeds sales projections its first year and fulfills its mission to support local farms and producers, with 20% of all store products coming from within 100 miles. We create 80 jobs and sell $1 million in local goods to the community. The co-op also holds its first parking lot party with a green band that powers its instruments with a bike! In response to the Great Recession, General Manager Rochelle Prunty reduces her compensation by 20% to limit potential financial hardships at the store and to avoid staff layoffs. Despite tough economic times, sales continue to exceed expectations and membership reaches 4,000 as the co-op concludes its first fiscal year.

2009 A $300,000 member-loan campaign is launched to earn more capital following a steep economic downturn. Despite this, the co-op continues to grow at a healthy rate thanks to its values and commitment to fostering a healthy local food system. Local purchases increase to 32% of all in-store products. The co-op achieves its ‘break-even’ operating target at the 1.5-year mark. We join the Northampton Living Wage Coalition with the intention of meeting our livable wage goals. Our first Co-op Hero Award is granted to Austin Miller for his efforts on behalf of the co-op: he was a founding member who devoted himself tirelessly to ensuring the co-op became a reality. He was also a major presence on community projects that provided housing for low-income families, shelters for domestic violence victims and food for the hungry. Austin sadly passes away on October 30, 2009, but his spirit lives on through the Austin Miller Co-op Hero Awards. The awards become an annual tradition at our Strawberry Ice Cream Social and are given in recognition of those who nurture and sustain our co-op and our community.

2010 The co-op is able to increase entry-level wages this year, furthering the goal of ensuring all staff members receive a livable wage. Local farms also benefit from the co-op’s success, and they expand production to meet our community’s needs. As more owners join and more members of the community shop at our store, we discover the need to free up space. We add an extension to the building to give our Deli and Meat Department staff their own walk-in coolers, which improves working conditions.
 

Establishing a resilient local food system

2011 A renaissance of local farms, businesses, institutions and organizations committed to a vision of sustainability and local nourishment is coming to fruition. River Valley Co-op continues its work of building a just marketplace with people coming together for the good of the community, establishing our store among a wave of other food co-ops opening across the country. We end our store’s third year in business on a high note with $13 million in sales—a volume initially projected not to happen until our 10th year! We also…

  • Increase local purchases by 10% over the previous year
  • Provide local producers with a viable and sustainable market to reduce economic hardships
  • Contribute more than $45 thousand to area nonprofits
  • Increase our workforce by over 25% for a total of 93 jobs in our store (Additionally, 71% of our non-entry level positions are filled by internal applicants who already work at the co-op!)

2012 Development begins on a Food for All program to highlight reduced prices on select popular items throughout the store. A Mardi Gras celebration is organized to support the New Orleans Food Co-op as they fundraise to build their own store - much like the cooperatives who supported us before we opened! River Valley spends more on local purchases than ever before... over $8 million! We launch a pre-order system offering savings on case purchases for member-owners. This year also marks the start of our Open Book Management Program, where an interdepartmental team is assembled to work with HR on a staff recognition program.

2013 Co-op achieves a first-ever net profit... three years earlier than expected! Thanks to this, we are able to pay patronage rebates to member-owners for the first time. Owners vote to donate 40% of their patronage dividend rebates to our low-income membership program, providing funds for up to 105 new families to join. Membership increases over 13% to 5,885 this year, as well. The co-op implements an Everyday Low Price program to reduce prices on about 150 mainstay products across the store, including but not limited to bananas, peanut butter, milk, rice, beans, ground beef and bath tissue. We build an outdoor deck for customers to enjoy during the summer, extending our seating capacity for the Deli Department and providing space for special events. We also contribute nearly $70 thousand to local nonprofits and community organizations through event sponsorships, advertising and donations, as well as to the production of a documentary about food cooperatives. Work begins on a full-scale remodeling of the store to allow for improved movement and access for customers. To accomplish this, the co-op launches a $2 million member loan campaign to refinance some debt locally.

2014 The co-op celebrates six years in business, serving more than 10,000 customers weekly. We purchase over $3.7 million in local foods from farmers and other local vendors. There are $20 million overall annual sales. Over 130 employees now work at the Co-op. Membership exceeds 6,700. The first phase of our store remodeling begins in October. Both the Deli and Front End receive updated fixtures and fresh paint. A new register is also added! Members support refinancing with over $2.4 million in member loans. In June, the Co-op is awarded the Howard K. Bowers Fund Cooperative Excellence Award at the National Consumer Co-op Management Association Conference for:

  • Commitment to excellence
  • Commitment to our members and community
  • Supporting local farmers and producers
  • Strengthening the regional economy
  • Supporting local, regional and national cooperative efforts

2015 The co-op begins exploring opportunities for expanding into a second store. Phase two of our store remodel begins this year. Among other things, we…

  • Add higher capacity shelving and new bulk bins
  • Remodel our wine and cheese sections
  • Update the layout of our Wellness Department
  • Upgrade the HVAC system for improved temperature control
  • Install new energy-efficient coolers and lighting fixtures

The co-op unveils new branding, and our name is updated from River Valley Market to River Valley Co-op. We also introduce Ursula, our beloved logo and resident store bear! Ownership numbers also jump to nearly 7,500 this year.

2016 The Northampton store remodeling project is completed, and research continues on expanding to a second store. To accommodate this growth, we scale up our Human Resources and IT systems, as well as training and development resources, to accommodate both stores. The co-op makes $132,355 in contributions to local nonprofits, community organizations, schools, charities, and more this year. An initiative is commenced which will provide jobs for refugees being resettled from the Middle East. Total ownership increases to 8,464, and we even team up with more farms and vendors to reach over 400 local food partners. Thanks to our growing community, our local purchases increase by 28.3% across all departments, going from $1.2 million to $5.3 million in just one year.

2017 Work resumes on securing a location for a second store as the co-op approaches its 10th year in business. The Northampton store goes on to create 167 jobs, an increase of 10 positions over 2016. We also fund a study exploring racial diversity at food co-ops in order to develop tools for systemic change. The co-op increases contributions to local organizations and nonprofits for a total of $135,868. We also hit a milestone in our sustainability efforts, successfully diverting 79% of our store waste from local landfills, acquiring 100% of our electricity from renewable sources, and selling over $2 million in bulk products.
 

Ten years… and counting!

2018 As the store approaches its 10th anniversary, a preferred site for a second location is secured at 228 Northampton Street in Easthampton! The site is chosen in large part because of Easthampton’s community culture of supporting local business, as well as for being in close proximity to our first store. Discussions get underway on site and market analysis, environmental testing, zoning and more. We begin a co-op owner loan campaign to fund the new store, and $2.8 million is raised in a show of owner confidence and solidarity by year’s end.

Some additional highlights rounding out our first decade include…

  • Quintupling of ownership to over 10,000 local families
  • Nearly $30 million in total sales, well over our initial projection of $13 million
  • Almost $40 million in local purchases from over 400 regional suppliers
  • Over $800 thousand in contributions to our community through sponsorships, fundraisers, events and in-kind donations

2019 Thanks to our member-owners’ loan campaign efforts, we are able to exceed our $5 million fundraising goal for our Easthampton project. Local companies such as Wright Brothers Builders, Thomas Douglas Architects and Berkshire Design Group are chosen to develop construction plans. A collaborative effort with Co-op Power leads to plans for solar panels on the roof, as well as a unique array that will cover and shade much of the parking lot. These panels will help generate about 700kWh in solar energy—approximately the same amount the store is projected to use! 

Other green features included in the new store’s design are…

  • Electric vehicle charging stations
  • A highly insulated building shell
  • A stormwater management system designed to protect nearby wetlands
  • No use of fossil fuels, except for propane in kitchen appliances and the emergency generator

In preparation for our two-store, one co-op vision, we add three positions to our management team and increase the minimum wage for our workers to $15 per hour—a full four years ahead of the Massachusetts legislative requirement taking effect. We implement a 401(k) plan with a wider portfolio of socially conscious investments for employees, with a match component of up to 1.5%. We successfully pilot an electronic invoicing system to reduce paper usage. Membership rises by 871 this year for a total of 10,680 owners. At our Northampton store, we lay down a new entryway rug with the words “Everyone is Welcome!” written in 13 different languages. By the end of the fiscal year, 86% of our employees work full-time—a substantially higher figure than the industry average of under 50%.
 

We own it… now we build it!

2020 The co-op purchases the land and ratifies the contract for a second store. Construction begins a few months later and a target grand opening window is set for spring 2021. In Northampton, several store-level changes are made to address an emerging global health emergency. We increase wages and provide extra paid time off to all our staff, as well as develop new programs and establish resources for those who need additional support. We also launch a curbside service to help our medically vulnerable shoppers and seniors get their groceries.