Producers Seek to Recover $25,000 They’re Owed After Dissolution of All Things Local
The Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 31st, 2015, by Scott Merzbach
It started as a concept to have a place with locally grown and made products that would help the community respond to climate change, rising energy prices and economic instability.
After organizers spent significant time studying and preparing, the All Things Local cooperative market opened to shoppers at 104 North Pleasant St. in November 2013.
Less than two years later, though, the market came to an abrupt end, with organizers citing an insufficient base of customers to support their aspirations of creating a year-round indoor farmers market where a wide array of local goods, including meats, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and hand-crafted items, would be available.
Now, more than two months after All Things Local went bankrupt, more than 100 area producers are seeking the public’s help to recover income they lost from supplying bread, produce and beverages to the store. The fundraiser, launched by Friends of All Things Local, is aimed at paying back about $25,000 for items put on consignment by 118 producers and sold over a seven-week period in September and October.
Jeremy Barker Plotkin, a member of the cooperative’s board of directors, said that producers were not paid up front for sales during the last month and a half of operations due to slower than anticipated sales in September.
“We did have this obligation to producers that we weren’t able to make,” said Barker Plotkin, who runs Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst.
Producers set their own prices and earned 70 percent of the proceeds from sales, said Andrew Korza of Deepening Roots Farm in Amherst.
Korza, who is owed $500 for the leafy greens and other products supplied to All Things Local, and Barker Plotkin put together a crowdfunding web page at You Caring.
“When the store closed, the store’s creditors froze the store’s assets and many of the small vendors who were owed money did not receive payment for the products already sold,” according to a write-up on the crowdfunding page.
Bernard Brennan, who served as president of the market’s board of directors, said he is supporting the fundraiser. He observes that it is separate from All Things Local so that creditors understand the money collected is not part of the store’s assets.
He is also encouraging people to go to farmers markets or farmstands to help producers directly.
This support is indicated in a post on its Facebook page, which reads: “As you may know, when a small business closes many people lose money. In this case, many of those people were the producers who stocked the shelves at ATL — our friends and neighbors, and the backbone of our local food economy.”
So far, the fundraiser has brought in just over $1,500. If organizers don’t achieve the full $25,000, whatever is collected will be returned to providers as a percentage of what they are owed.
Going out of business
The demise of the store didn’t come as a surprise, Brennan said, because the entire second year for the store saw a loss of between $2,000 and $4,000 each month.
“You can only run a business at a small loss for so long,” Brennan said.
Even as financial pressures grew, there were those who wanted to stay open and weather the continued losses.
“We all believed strongly it was worth the effort to keep it running,” Brennan said.
The board tried to do this by cutting expenses on staff and appealing to landowner Barry Roberts for reduced rent. In fact, Brennan said Roberts was “very forgiving” whenever late rent payments were made.
“To his credit, he believed in the project and wanted to see it succeed,” Brennan said.
But troubles continued, as the market ran through its reserve accounts, and then the bank credit and loan from Greenfield Savings Bank.
“Near the end it became a situation where we were paying last month’s bills with this month’s sales,” Brennan said.
Brennan said some supporters hoped that the cooperative could scrape by for another year, but the board opted to make the decision to close, posting a notice on Sunday, Oct. 18, that the store wouldn’t reopen. The quick closing was necessary, because unlike stores that can have going-out-of-business sales, having product on consignment didn’t give management the luxury of what Brennan describes as a soft landing.
With assets insufficient to pay creditors, All Things Local couldn’t reimburse its producers, Brennan said. The first obligation was to make good on any debts owed to the state and local government, and the second was to return money to creditors, including as much of the $289,000 owed to the bank as soon as possible. The bank closed accounts and then took any physical assets owned by the cooperative, such as refrigerators and other equipment.
While All Things Local has been dissolved, and its board is no longer intact, Brennan said he believes there remains significant support in the Amherst community for a year-round place to buy such products.
“We’ll lick our wounds and try again,” said Brennan, who continues to operate Amethyst Farm on North East Street.
Barker Plotkin said the cooperative model has been successful in other places and could work in Amherst.
“All of us on the board are definitely a little sad the whole thing didn’t work out,” Barker Plotkin said.
Those involved continue to consider what caused the financial issues, such as whether the prices for products were too high or the location was not convenient for shoppers.
Despite the personal financial losses for some of those who helped develop the concept, Brennan said he appreciates the work that went into the effort.
“I’m proud of the experiment,” Brennan said. “I’m sorry to see it not continuing and flourishing.”