Blue Hill Co-op looks to buy land to move, expand

Posted Oct. 11, 2012, at 12:45 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 11, 2012, at 2:54 p.m.

BLUE HILL, Maine — A local retail grocery cooperative has taken an initial step to move its business to another, larger local site.

Mia Strong of Sedgwick, president of the Blue Hill Co-op’s board, said Wednesday that the co-op has acquired a two-year option to purchase a five-and-a-half-acre parcel on South Street in Blue Hill, where routes 172 and 175 lead toward Sedgwick and Brooklin. The property currently is undeveloped, she said.

The main reason for the move, if the co-op ends up acquiring the property, would be to have more space, Strong said. She did not disclose what the purchase price is expected to be.

“It’s a very tight squeeze,” Strong said of the co-op’s current, half-acre leased location on the corner of Ellsworth Road and Main Street. The community market and cafe’s parking lot is cramped and often full, and restricted space inside the building limits the amount of merchandise they can keep in stock, which, in turn, affects the co-op’s purchasing power when it buys in bulk.

“We just need more space,” Strong said.

Strong said a consultant has suggested that the co-op could move into an 8,000 square-foot building, but no plans have been drawn up. More research needs to be done to determine what a new co-op store might look like or include, she said.

The existing co-op already has a cafe and a prepared food counter along with its sections of bulk foods, fresh local produce, cosmetic and wellness items and other grocery merchandise — much of which is organic and produced in Maine. If it had more space, the co-op could host a weekly farmer’s market or sell grain for raising chickens, she said. The larger lot might even allow for more of a campus setting, where other services such as yoga or holistic health treatments could be offered, Strong said.

The co-op’s membership has been growing, Strong said, which reflects a growing demand for organically grown food and natural products.

“We really are in a hub of the local food movement,” the board president said.

Strong said the co-op is a for-profit entity, not a nonprofit organization, so it cannot accept tax-deductible donations. She said the board is looking into whether it can partner with a nonprofit organization with a mission that is compatible with the co-op’s purpose and could act as a fiscal sponsor for a capital campaign the co-op likely would have to mount to raise funds to buy the South Street property and then to build on it.

“We have a long road ahead,” Strong said.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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