St. J Co-op to Close Doors

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StJ Co-OpST. JOHNSBURY- The St. Johnsbury Food Co-op announced this Friday that they will soon be closing their doors.

According to the Co-op Board President, Brian Romeo, it has always been a struggle to keep things open, due to simply a lack of business and lack of funds. 

Romeo joined the board about two years ago, as just a member, where at the annual board meeting he remarks that they had discussed the same issue of shutting down. He says that also after reviewing documents from the annual meeting from as far back as ten years ago, it has just always been a constant struggle since the store opened in 1996. 

The Co-op realized things were taking a turn this past summer, so they decided to make fundraising efforts in the fall to try and raise $15,000 to help restock then store. They also began to reach out to local businesses for help.

Ultimately, though, these efforts could only do so much, and as sales began declining, options became fewer. With staff cuts and cuts in the hours of operation, sales are still down, and there's now a negative balance with the bank-- in particular between December 1st of 2015 and February 20th of this year in which sales were down 39.5%.

After the annual meeting Thursday night, the board decided the following day they would announce the inevitable closing of the co-op. Currently, there is one staff member working a day. They will remain open until all the inventory is sold, and begin paying back the bank and notifying vendors. 

With the closing of the co-op, comes lost jobs, and what customers would explain as a loss in the sense of community.

"I always sort've realized it was one of the placed I sort of called home," said customer Madeline Winfield, "I'd consider most of the people here my friends".

"The regular basis that you see these people, it's kind of like a second home," Samantha Ferrato, a cashier at the co-op, who says the sense of community is an attribute to the co-op that also provides opportunities for local agriculture.

"The local growers, they have a place here. People know, for example, the cheese -- everybody knows that Jasper Hill Cheese is gonna be here," Ferrato said. "They can come here and enjoy something that is made very locally and the local crops, it's like you can taste the earth of Vermont because they're straight from the soil here."

The co-op will be missed by it's employees and customers, Romeo says, but he says he believes the sense of community will live on. 

"Obviously you know we will still be around -- everyone will still be around," Romeo said. "The co-op won't… but the people will".

Now the nearest co-op for residents of the greater St. Johnsbury area is in Plainfield, or Montpelier, Vermont.