Blue Hill Co-op prepares to leave downtown next year

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Customers enjoy an easy camaraderie at the Blue Hill Co-op. The store will be in a new location next year.
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The Blue Hill Co-op will leave downtown as part of an expansion that’s been five years in the making.
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BLUE HILL, Maine — The Blue Hill Co-op will leave downtown as part of an expansion that’s been five years in the making.

First announced in 2012, the move to Route 172 about a mile southwest of downtown is expected to occur when construction of the new site finishes by mid-summer, Kipp Hopkins, the co-op’s marketing manager, said.

The move will take the organic grocery, which is owned by more than 1,700 shareholders, into a retail space almost four times the size of its current location. That’s good news for the 25 Maine-based farms — including 10 from the Blue Hill Peninsula — and other Maine-based producers who will have more room to sell their goods.

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Many of the grocer’s products are Maine-made, and the co-op made more than $1 million in sales of those Maine products in 2016. The expansion follows the opening this year of a half-dozen eateries and the start of construction on a new recreation center in Blue Hill, a coastal Hancock County town of 2,700.

“We have gotten to the point where we can’t really grow anymore but we have the potential to grow more,” Hopkins said. “We stock as much as we can, but the [storage] space is too small and the parking lot is tiny and we’re just at a position where we can’t get any bigger.”

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Clerk Heather Davis chats up customers from behind the counter of the Blue Hill Co-op. The store will be in a new location next year.

The new retail space will be 7,014 square feet, compared to the old building’s 1,850 square feet. Located near South Side Lane and a Napa Auto Parts store where routes 172 and 175 lead toward Sedgwick and Brooklin, the new site’s construction began in mid-September, said Timothy Spahr of E.L. Shea Builders & Engineers of Ellsworth.

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

As of Thursday, workers had removed trees, leveled the land for a parking lot and installed storm drainage. They were preparing to finish utilities under the foundation’s concrete flooring, which would be poured in a few weeks, weather permitting, Spahr said.

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Construction workers are building the Blue Hill Co-op at 70 South St. in Blue Hill. The retail space available at the new site will be almost four times that which the popular store enjoys now.

“We’re working against the calendar,” Spahr said. “It seems like the winter is already here, but if it is possible, we will work right through.”

One of the best facets of the new site will be its room for storage, said Deborah Evans, a member of the co-op’s board of directors. The site at Ellsworth Road and Main Street often risks running out of salable materials due to its lack of space, and trucks that unload there have a difficult time maneuvering in the parking lot.

[Rice production in Maine ‘growing exponentially,’ but more farms are needed]

The lack of space limits the amount of merchandise the co-op can keep in stock, which, in turn, affects the co-op’s purchasing power when it buys in bulk.

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Deborah Evans, a member of the co-op’s board of directors, during a recent stop shopping at the Blue Hill Co-op. The store will be in a new location next year.

“We can’t get the shelves filled with everything we’d like to be selling,” Evans said.

With the new room, the co-op could host a weekly farmers market or sell grain for raising chickens. 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, members have said.

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
The Blue Hill Co-op's new location will give it more room for the deli.

The venue-change has the store’s co-owners and other customers excited, Evans said.

“Finally,” she said, “we can grow.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that almost all of the co-op’s products are Maine-made and that the store made more than $1 million in sales in 2016. Sales of the store’s Maine-made products totaled more than $1 million and that figure represents around 30 percent of total sales for that year.


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