All Things Local indoor year-round farmers market co-op opens in downtown Amherst

“The store felt full and vibrant” during its first weekend, said Bernard Brennan, a member of working group that established the co-op.

In what Brennan called the store’s “soft opening,” wares from about 50 local producers, from meats to alpaca wool, were for sale. The idea of the market, run by a full-time manager, two part-timers and a flock of volunteers, is to return 80 percent of the sale of an item to the farmer or craftsperson and 20 percent to the co-op, which is also supported by memberships.

The space at 104 North Pleasant St., formerly the home of the Souper Bowl restaurant, has a freshly painted, brightly colored interior, and is filled with racks for dry goods, produce and crafts and lined with refrigerators and freezers for dairy products and meats.

At mid-day Tuesday, a handful of customers were browsing and numerous empty racks and shelves were scattered among the full ones, with signs indicating more produce is on the way. The last few weeks have been a scramble to get the final permits and line up enough products to get the doors open, said Brennan.

“It all very much a work in progress,” he added. “It’s great to have an opportunity to do a soft opening because it lets us work out whatever bugs come up.” A grand opening is planned for December or January, Brennan said.

The store is managed by Alan Sax. Corrin Meise-Munns is the assistant manager, responsible for training and managing the volunteer corps, and Lock Whitney, the project manager, works with the producers, Brennan said. Unlike a traditional farmers market, the farmers and craftspeople do not have to stay to sell their products.

Based on a similar market, Local Roots in Wooster, Ohio, the store will rely heavily on volunteers who will take a shift once a week, once or twice a month, he said. The co-op is working with Valley Time Trade, the local exchange that operates, mostly online, to allow people to swap their time for services, he said.

Store volunteers will be given coupons that they can then redeem for service such as guitar lessons, for example, yard work, or even use toward co-op membership, which is $50 per person. “It’s basically an alternative currency,” Brennan said.

During the first few days there were a few snags, as expected, according to Brennan. The first day there was a computer glitch at a checkout station that was quickly fixed, and staff has already come to see that a more efficient system is needed for tagging items, he said.

Brennan said organizers have also discovered that while they have been able to line up a wide variety of items, including meats, cheeses, jams, ice cream, all manner of produce, jewelry and pottery, they found that eggs are in short supply.

“That was surprising initially, but when you dig into it, it makes sense,” he said. This is the time of year that egg production slows and most of those who have backyard or small-scale chicken operations have already committed their supplies to CSAs and other outlets, he explained.

Brennan said he is considering highlighting what growers might consider raising by putting signs on store shelves indicating what is in short supply.

Now that the push to get the doors open is past, he said, the co-op will have time to work out glitches, promote membership and plan the grand opening party.

While he did not yet have information about numbers of customers or receipts for the first few days of business, Brennan said he was happy with the start. “It was terrific,” he said. “Good energy.”

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays except Mondays and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.