Some Residents Express Concern Over Possible Co-op Purchase of Village Market

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – Some residents have expressed concern over the impact on village residents should the Buffalo Mountain Co-op buy the Village Market, a plan announced by the co-op board.

A part of that concern is economics. 

Hardwick’s demographics, according to the census, show that 63% of households earn less than $50,000 per year, which is two-thirds the state average. Nearly a fifth of Hardwick’s residents live below the poverty line, and nearly a fifth were eligible for SNAP Benefits (food stamps) in the years 2009-2013, according to data from the University of Vermont. Department for Children and Families data indicates that the average monthly allotment for SNAP benefits is $235 per household and $163 for seniors living alone.

The co-op said in its informational newsletter that it had hired the Massachusetts-based Cooperative Development Institute to “do a market and financial feasibility study” and a survey. According to the newsletter, the survey found that over 200 of those surveyed felt its prices were “satisfactory,” a far larger number than rated the prices “poor.”

The newsletter notes that “we purchase less from our distributors than larger stores nearby, so our prices are less competitive.” At a larger store, “selling more goods will get us better prices from our distributors, passing on savings to shoppers.”

Some residents expressed concerns over the proposed acquisition of the Village Market.

Resident Timothy Thompson is on disability and SNAP. He said that many people he knows are in the same situation. “I can afford coffee in the Co-op,” he said, “and they’ve got good coffee. But that’s about it. I can’t afford eight dollar bread. Plus, they don’t have things like cans of tuna and stuff like that you just need to make it through the month. I was hoping if they did move in there, they’d keep a store brand, some inexpensive stuff like normal bread, and maybe some frozen items they wouldn’t normally carry. But if it all just goes co-op and bulk foods, no way I can afford that on foodstamps and disability. It’s just not possible.”

As for going to Tops Friendly Markets on Wolcott Street, Thompson said he does not drive, and many people he knows who live in the village do not, either. 

“I have friends who can give me a ride once in a while, but not everyone’s in that situation.”

He said cost was not the only factor that might dissuade village residents from shopping at the co-op. “Some people find the co-op very scary, because of cultural differences, let me say. I understand some of those cultural differences, and I like the people at the co-op. But it can be imposing for someone who’s [different]. I’ve felt a little looked at poorly, or looked at in a non-friendly manner, I guess you could say. I don’t think that’s really what they’re trying to go for, but they just don’t know who I am.”

Resident Teresa Nielsen’s grandson Tyler King lives with her, and between his salary and her fixed income, the two need to budget their food. She went to both the co-op and the Village Market with $20 to spend for their macaroni and cheese dinner. 

“I went to the co-op, and I don’t know how anybody can afford to shop there. A small block of cheese costs over $5, when I can go to the Village Market and pay $3 for the exact same thing.”

She said beyond the prices, the type of food would not be a big success in their household. 

“It’s basically all organic, and the prices, I mean, even for a bag of chips, I think it was like six-something [dollars] a bag.”

Nielsen said attempting to shop at the co-op would “definitely not” be sustainable. “There’s no way I would be able to afford to even buy meals for a week down there on my fixed income.”

She has a car, and shops at both Tops and the Village Market, though she likes how much closer the Village Market is. 

One obstacle to her at the co-op was she said many items were not priced. 

“I’d like to buy my spices there, but my problem is, they’re not priced on how much it is. I don’t want to get to the register and have it cost me an arm and a leg.”

She also was not thrilled with the bulk items at the co-op that allow customers to fill bags with however much they need of various items.

“I don’t like that, because you don’t know if anybody’s had their hands in it. Some little kid walking by and they reach in it with their hands. That’s my biggest thing is, I don’t know who’s touched it, because I can pretty much guarantee somebody has put their hands in that macaroni.”

Like Thompson, she said she felt uncomfortable shopping in the co-op.

“I felt like I was being watched constantly. It’s not a comfortable experience.”

The co-op will host two informational sessions to get public feedback on the planned purchase of the Village Market. The first community meeting is this Sunday, September 19, at 4 p.m. at Atkins Field, and the second is on Monday, September 27, at 6 p.m.