Putney Food Co-op Expansion Approved

More Seats in the Deli Area

The Putney Food Co-op in Putney, VT, will be expanding its footprint soon.

The Putney Food Co-op received approval to expand its physical footprint and will be making more room in its deli for seating.

On Oct. 17, Michael Wells, a board member of the Putney Co-op, presented the Putney Planning Board with a site plan for the expansion. The board approved the expansion, providing that none of the abutters appeal the plan before Nov. 27.

The co-op expansion will include a larger kitchen and deli, deli seating, and two additional bathrooms.

The expansion will take place on the east side of the Co-op building towards the Route 5 property line. The expansion, according to Planning Board meeting notes, is not meant to increase the number of customers coming into the Co-op, but to better enhance the flow of the deli area. The seating would also be increased by between 28 and 30 seats.

The plan, General Manager Robyn O'Brien said, is based on reality.

"Putney is not growing," she said. Rather than accommodate for a customer base that simply isn't there, O'Brien said, the main goal of the expansion is to improve what she called "basket size."

Most grocery stores, O'Brien said, average at $26 to $30 per each customer shopping trip. The Co-op averages about $18 a trip. O'Brien thinks that most Co-op customers want to just get in and out because the store's so crowded. She hopes the expansion improves the customer's shopping experience.

Planning and building up to the expansion has been in the works for years. In 2013, the Co-op began a market study to see the feasibility of an expansion. "It was bigger than what we were comfortable with," O'Brien said of the recommendation made from the study. The size, the scope and the expense were all too much to be considered by the Co-op.

"We wanted to know what would really benefit the store without breaking the bank," O'Brien said.

The discussion was then tabled until 2016 when the current expansion project began.

The original store was built in 1992. At the beginning, O'Brien said, it was making well under $1 million in sales. Now it's making over $4 million. A large part of the sales come from the cafe, O'Brien said. The original design for the store didn't anticipate so much cafe use. The cafe currently seats 16 people and it's "tight, tight, tight," O'Brien said. During lunch hour the cafe is, "nuts," she added. She believes the Co-op misses out on a lot of potential sales because people don't want to go to the cafe while it's super busy.

In addition to expanding the cafe, the kitchen expansion will enable the Co-op to offer more products. She wants to offer customers more choices, particularly in home-meal replacement. The small kitchen space right now limits the co-ops ability to cook and package meals.

"We'd like to offer more so people won't have to go further away," she said.

The expansion will also improve the cold and hot bar offerings, and increase the co-op's ability to cater.

"We're finally at a place where we can manifest something and take better care of the community," O'Brien said.

On the Co-op website Ori Fifield, a member of the Putney Food Co-op Board of Directors, wrote, "In a world where I see some people pulling apart and separating from one another, it inspires me to see the bevy of consultants who come together to share their in depth knowledge of co-op operations, to know that if we need to borrow money, it comes from a cooperative bank that uses its' profits to help other co-ops and to know that increased sales in our co-op mean more local purchasing, more good jobs, more healthy food eaten and a healthier, more vibrant community makes my heart truly happy."
Friday, November 17, 2017