Assabet Village Co-op Market Hires Director of Outreach & Communications

Lorne Bell of Maynard, MA

The Assabet Village Co-op Market recently took another step forward with the hiring of Lorne Bell as director of outreach and communications.

As a Maynard resident, and co-op shareholder—he was owner 143—Bell has a vested interest in making sure plans for the co-op succeed. His role, he said, is twofold -- communications and messaging as well as owner outreach.

The co-op is an initiative to open a community-owned, full-service grocery store. In October, Heather Sullivan, Assabet Village Co-op Market treasurer and member of the board of directors said the majority of owners live in Maynard, so they would prefer to open a store in Maynard but they have not ruled out the possibility of expanding the search for a suitable site to nearby towns.

Plans for the co-op began in February 2012, and the first owners signed on in October 2013. There are currently 600 owners on board, but before the store can be funded, there must be at least 900.

With that in mind, Bell is planning to revamp the organization's Facebook page and attend some events in nearby towns to help spread the word.

The co-op process is based on three principles—grow, fund, and build.

"And so you grow to a number of owners where the market feasibility study says you have enough owners to support a store on opening day. Nine-hundred owners is enough to get us started," Bell said.

Once they reach 900 owners, they will begin a capital campaign to fund the store, although they have not yet chosen a site. Details of the capital campaign will be rolled out in the next few months.

Once they have secured adequate funding, they will begin plans to build the store.

Prospective owners must pay $200 for an equity share.

"That lifetime share entitles them to have a say in what products we'll carry, what programs we'll offer and in the governance of the co-op," said Bell.

An economic anchor

With a 70 percent success rate, co-ops help support the local economy.

"A big reason [for a co-op's success] is that before you have opened your doors you have built your customer base," he said.

Another reason, is that co-op markets tend to be stocked with food and groceries from local farmers and businesses.

"It's an opportunity to both pay the grower a fair price and eliminate the middle-man, which ends up providing a good value for our customers," Bell said.

Part of the co-op model's core values, Bell said, is to make sure nutritious food is available to everyone, regardless of economic status.

"To provide products for everyone, we'll carry different brands at different price points," he said. "For example, three brands of milk: an inexpensive conventional brand as well as local and organic options."

Profits from the store will be returned to the community in the form of owner incentives, programming, and living-wage jobs.

"So [owners will have] a role in making sure that folks in the community have jobs and that we have a store that is feeding its profits back into the local community and helping it thrive," Bell said. "Even if you live nearby this is a place where you can get ... wholesome nutritious food that is coming from your neighbors."

Bell hopes to recruit volunteers to begin an outreach campaign in nearby towns, to connect with community members and business owners. His message is clear.

"This is a community owned grocery store that responds to the community's desire to programming and is integrally connected to local businesses, local organizations, local products and local people," he said.

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by Holly Camero – Jan. 17, 2017
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Courtesy photo

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