Putney Food Co-op breaks ground


PUTNEY — How else would you celebrate an expansion at the Putney Food Co-op than with local summer berries and whipped cream?

The co-op officially broke ground Monday morning on its $850,000 expansion, which will create more office space for its staff, as well as greatly expand its cafe, deli and kitchen.

The two additions, on either end of the existing 1992 building, will be completed by December.

After Robyn O'Brien, general manager of the co-op, and board members did the ceremonial dirt toss, the group immediately adjourned to the shade and a big bowl of local raspberries and blueberries, and some out-of-town strawberries to mark the occasion.

Local strawberries are no longer in season, O'Brien said, as she spooned up cups of berries and cream.

O'Brien, who has been general manager for the past 16 years, said a full 20 percent of the co-op's business was in the deli — either people stopping in for a sandwich or a coffee, or to pick up something for lunch or supper.

"The deli is quite popular," said O'Brien, noting that 40 percent of the co-op's business comes from tourists or visitors to Putney, which is home to several schools. The co-op's location close to Interstate 91 makes for easy access, she said.

"They are very loyal to the co-op," she said.

The co-op is thriving: in 1992 the co-op was registering about $300,000 in annual sales; the current figure has mushroomed to $4.3 million.

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O'Brien said that 30 percent of the co-op's purchasing power goes to local businesses and farmers. She said the co-op defines local as within the borders of the state of Vermont or within 100 miles of Putney. Produce that is labeled "local" has to come within 30 miles of Putney, according to state law, O'Brien said.

She said that since the co-op enclosed the porch, business at the deli has grown tremendously.

The co-op currently has 1,700 members in a town of 2,400 people, she said. The co-op, which moved to its current location from its original downtown Putney location, was started in 1941.

The co-op exists in Putney with the Putney General Store, which is still in the village area. "We serve the same customers," said O'Brien.

She said the local co-op had set aside a total of $150,000 toward the expansion in recent years, and was borrowing the rest from the Co-operative Fund of New England.

The addition closer to the co-op's parking lot, which will house the co-op offices, will be completed in October, she said. The other addition, closer to Route 5, should be done by mid-December. She said disruption to the store should be minimal, although at some point in November, the deli and the small seating area would be affected.

"We're doubling the size of the kitchen and we're going to have seating for 30," she said.

The store offers residents a selection from five different local bread bakeries, and O'Brien says they deal with both large and small farmers. The co-op gets a lot of produce from Harlow Farms in Westminster, but also deals with small farms "who sell us five dozen eggs."

Inside the co-op, shoppers can choose among 15 different kinds of locally made granolas, cheeses, bread, fresh produce and a big wine selection, as well as the traditional grocery staples.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com, or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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