Beyond the usual array of fresh produce, hot soup and coffee, locally sourced meats, cheeses and beers, Just Local Food Cooperative has something new decorating its store: signs asking people to invest in its long-awaited expansion plan.
The co-op’s capital campaign is underway to collect funds for the store’s move from the intersection of Washington Avenue and Farwell Street to a location in Aspenson Mogensen Hall on Water Street that will quintuple its current size.
The aforementioned signs adorn the store, and a promotional video posted just over a month ago on Facebook asked people to invest in their community and help the store say “farewell to Farwell.” Soon, the co-op will launch a phone call campaign.
Originally slated for an opening in October, Just Local is now looking at an opening next spring in the new space because of holdups that pushed the schedule back, said Maria Bamonti, the co-op’s general manager.
“I’m starting to figure out that these big projects take twice as long as you want them to,” Bamonti said.
Bamonti said the store’s board knew fall 2018 was a tight deadline, and because members don’t want to open during the holidays, they are waiting until sometime in spring. That date will depend on the new timeline determined once construction bids are requested and one is accepted.
Despite an extended timeline, Bamonti said the community involvement has been much-appreciated as well as much-needed. Because the grocery store is a cooperative, this kind of involvement is required, so Bamonti said 40 percent of the total cost needs to come from the store’s owners.
That 40 percent is equivalent to about $1.5 million.
According to an April website update authored by Rachel Hart-Brinson, Just Local’s board president, the store’s capital campaign “includes funds from grants, conventional bank loans, and investment from owners in the form of purchased shares.”
Hart-Brinson said it’s unclear exactly how much money has been raised so far because many investors have expressed interest but have yet to say how much they’re going to contribute.
However, she and Bamonti both said people have been excited, with multiple store owners investing upwards of $10,000.
It’s important, Hart-Brinson said, for the store to be able to provide a place for local farmers to sell their food while remaining accessible to shoppers.
“The idea is that expansion of the store is to support the workers, and farmers and the community,” Hart-Brinson said.
The job of the board, she said, is to look at the big picture and make sure the new location allows the store to do what it needs to do, from hosting classes to having a meeting room where the board can convene with the general manager.
Beyond the financial planning required, Bamonti said a lot has been happening behind the scenes with operations. Design plans have been finalized and a lease for the premises has been drafted but not yet signed. The store has been working with local banks and moving toward applying for a Community Development Investment Grant.
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