Harvest Co-op Markets Closing Both Remaining Stores

A major loss for the co-op community was revealed Wednesday night, as the Jamaica Plain News reported that both Harvest Co-op Markets locations will be closing in seven to 14 days.

The news comes on the heels of the National Co+op Grocers (NCG) deciding not to submit a proposal that would assume the co-op’s liabilities and assets.

According to Paige Clark, who has been the Jamaica Plain store manager since July 2017, Harvest’s staff all found out Wednesday. Around 50 people between the two locations — the other in Cambridge’s Central Square — are expected to lose their jobs.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” Clark told Boston.com Thursday. “[The NCG] has been working for a few months now to find any financially sustainable solution to keep the co-op open. They were trying to renegotiate a lot of moving parts.”

 Ultimately, a long-term solution could not be reached.

In May, Harvest sent a letter to its more than 3,000 active members, asking for help in raising at least $300,000 by August in order to stay open. The letter detailed a variety of ways that members could help: making purchases with cash, paying off equity payments early, and generally shopping more at the co-op. 

“The community absolutely responded to that letter,” Clark said. “But we did some more detailed financial projections … and found that even if we did raise that $300,000, even if we raised a million dollars, it was all still money that would have to be paid back in the very near future. We decided that it was immoral and unethical to take people’s money. So we actually halted the capital campaign.”

It wasn’t the first time the market appealed to its members for help — in May 2017, The Boston Globe reported that the co-op was losing roughly $30,000 each month and sent a letter to its members urging them to spend more money on groceries.

Clark said that a number of strategies were implemented to help the business recover since it started losing money nearly five years ago, including hiring consultants from other co-ops. The NCG even offered the markets a loan over the summer to keep operating while it researched sustainable financial solutions. 

Despite closing, Clark said she still has faith in the concept of co-ops.

“I still believe there is a viable market for co-op food in Boston and across the United States,” she said. “It’s about access to affordable, healthy, local food. We need individuals who are committed to keeping their money in the local market. And I think that we have plenty of people in the Boston area who want to support local food and farms and want to put their money back into Boston.”

The Harvest Co-op began as a buying club on the Boston University campus in 1971, and was originally called The Boston University Student Union Food Co-op. It became a brick-and-mortar on the BU campus the following year, and, in 1992, it merged with the Cambridge Food Co-op to become the Harvest Co-op Markets. A number of renovations and relocations have occurred since then, but both the current Jamaica Plain and Cambridge location have been operating since 2012.

The markets will close in a week or two, but an official closing date hasn’t been released. Clark said it will depend on how many people shop at the stores in the next few days.

“We want to express our gratitude,” said Clark. “There’s such a core group of people who’ve shopped through the stores and been part of the community. And I’m really going to miss them.”

Photo from Harvest Co-op website – Jamaica Plain Store at Arboretum Place

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