River Valley Co-op owners invest over $5 million in new Easthampton store
By MICHAEL CONNORS, Daily Hampshire Gazette, July 11, 2019
EASTHAMPTON — River Valley Co-op has raised $5.1 million in loans from more than 300 co-op owners toward its plans to open a second grocery store on Route 10 in Easthampton.
The Northampton-based cooperatively owned grocery store was recently given the green light in March by the city to build a $17 million, 22,000-square-foot store at 228 Northampton St. The co-op was looking to reach $5 million in a capital campaign, and it surpassed its goal with $5,164,000 pledged on June 30.
“I am so astonished by the generosity, commitment and passion of our owners,” said Jade Barker, a member of the co-op’s board of directors and chair of the co-op owner loan committee.
Rochelle Prunty, general manager of River Valley Co-op, said the campaign was part of a feasibility step to show other lenders community interest in the project, and that she was feeling positive that the new store is becoming a reality.
“It’s getting very real,” Prunty said.
Loans made toward the new store range from around $2,000 to $250,000, Prunty said, with an average loan falling between $15,000 and $16,000. The loans, she said, will be paid back within seven to 10 years, and owners can choose their own interest rates, ranging from 3.5 percent up to 6 percent.
Barker noted that, when opening the co-op’s Northampton store in 2008, owners similarly pledged loans to aid in development costs. Along with these loans, she said, the co-op is looking to secure investment from local banks and economic development money through federal new market tax credits.
Prunty said the co-op is looking to secure the remainder of the $17 million necessary to build the project and begin construction by this fall, with a hopeful opening date of fall 2020. The store is expecting to hire about 75 new employees, she said, with an increase to 100 expected within three to five years. The space also calls for a 200-space parking lot with solar panels that are expected to generate most of the energy for the store, she said.
River Valley Co-op has about 10,700 people who have paid a $150 one-time investment to become owners of the store, Barker said. The new space, she said, will be able to better serve owners who live in Easthampton and Southampton.
Barker said the Northampton store at 330 N. King St. was expected to do $12 million in sales by its 10th year — but the store, now in its 11th year, has blown that estimate out of the water, raking in $30 million.
“We’re still able to provide in the current store, but just barely,” Barker said. “We’ll be able to serve more people (in Easthampton). We can have more good jobs, put more investment in the community.”
Barker said part of the rationale behind opening a new store was to intentionally draw off business from the Northampton store to provide services to a wider area of people.
But Prunty said it wasn’t just Easthampton residents who have voiced excitement for a new store, but also customers based in Northampton.
“It has a level of support from the whole region,” she said. “We’re strengthening our cooperative.”
The location will also incorporate the existing Captain Jack’s Seafood Shack as part of the new development, with outdoor seating a feature of the plans to serve both businesses, Prunty said.
Barker said the co-op still needs to finalize some infrastructure permitting before any construction could get underway, but that she was confident that this along with securing the remaining funds will happen.
“I’m fairly confident we will be able to complete it and pull through,” she said.
Michael Connors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.