by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – The Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op announced last Thursday that “86% [of members] voted YES for the move” to the Hardwick Village Market space. It said that 552 “member-owners” took part in the vote from October 10 through October 24. The Co-op has thus far offered few details about what the next steps would be. In the statement released, it said “Now that we have achieved this step, we can proceed in a thoughtful way with our next steps, which includes financing.”
Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op Board President Annie Gaillard said “we’re working on [the next steps] now. Fundraising, bank appraisals, and still trying to negotiate the price down because the roof and store floor both need replacing.”
With the beginning of a new era for the Buffalo Mountain Co-op comes the end of an old one for Hardwick. The town has had an independent family-owned grocery store in that location for generations.
Current Hardwick Village Market owners Pamela and Guy Trag bought what was then the Halls Handy-Market in late 2013. The Hall family bought the market in 1994 from Bev Lasure when it was known as the Mill Street Market.
According to a 2013 article about the Trags purchasing the market, the Halls had owned stores in Hardwick since 1974. They operated what is now the M&M Beverage from 1974 to “about 1980” where they debuted bottle redemption that was “unusual at the time.” In 1984, the family purchased what is now Hardwick Convenience and Deli (formerly Kwik-Stop), and in “what as innovative move at the time, they rented Betamax videos and players,” the article said.
When the Halls saw that the Mill Street Market was for sale in 1994, they saw an opportunity once again for expansion and innovation. According to a 1994 article, three members of the Hall family quit their jobs to help out in the store. Among the objectives Jerry Hall laid out at the time were “quality meats at good prices” and perhaps opening a deli.
It was noted in the 2013 article that “It was a real family business: the three brothers, their parents, and significant others all lent a hand. They strove to get to know each of their customers and to maintain the friendly vibe of a neighborhood market.”
The Trags said at the time that they intended to continue that tradition. With ten years of experience at the time running the Quality Market in Barre as a family business, the article said “they plan to continue to run the Mill Street business as a family operation.”
According to the article, “Tim Hall will stay on in the meat department, as will most of the store’s other employees.” The Trags used the same distributor as the Halls “and expect to stock the familiar items customers are accustomed to seeing on the shelves.”
In two community meetings, the co-op said its feasibility study showed that the success of the new location hinged on stocking some amount of the conventional grocery items that the Village Market did in addition to the Co-op’s organic line. That was also a condition of the sale. Members showed sharp divisions as to whether they found that acceptable. Some were concerned that the cheaper conventional products would sell better than more expensive organic local products.
The Co-op’s leadership will have to decide how to “blend” the offerings that the Village Market carries with existing Co-op products and how to allocate the additional space that the new location will offer. According to Hardwick Town records, the Village Market’s total square footage is 6,000 square feet split between two floors, more than double the size of the Co-op’s current ground floor retail space.