BARRE — The board pushing plans to bring a cooperatively owned grocery store to downtown Barre might be site-less, but it isn’t flying blind.
That’s the message the shorthanded board pitched to a small sliver of the 700-plus member-owners of what all hope will one day be the Granite City Grocery on Thursday night.
“When?” was always going to be an open question heading into the co-op’s sixth annual meeting, but board members briefly hoped to answer “where?” on Thursday, before a market study raised red flags prompting them to cancel that long-anticipated announcement.
“The market study didn’t say what we thought it was going to say,” board President Nick Landry said during a town hall-style meeting moderated by Paul Costello.
Despite the promise of free food, fewer than 40 people — board members included — stuck around for the back and forth that began with Landry acknowledging a sense of urgency, but stressing the need to proceed with caution.
“We are going to be moving as fast as we can as soon as we responsibly can,” Landry said, emphasizing the word “responsibly,” and noting that the latest generation of co-ops that have started and failed have typically chosen poor locations, been “under-capitalized,” or skipped steps in order to accelerate the process.
Landry said the board hasn’t “cut corners” and is sticking to a proven path that it believes will address a community problem in a sustainable way.
“We have been staunch about the process because this is about more than opening a store,” Landry said. “This is about building a better Barre (and) this is about providing secure access to healthy, affordable food for our community.”
Landry said the proposed grocery store would create dozens of new jobs, strengthen the local economy and fill the void created when Grand Union closed its Barre-based supermarket in 2002.
“What we’re here to do is open a co-op that stays open and is that economic engine for our community,’ he said.
Though there were not harsh critics in the audience Thursday night, there were some skeptics — including some frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of meaningful progress, and one who wondered whether it was time to flip what has become a predictable script and abandon its methodical approach.
The latter assessment came from one of the board’s newest members, Morse Block Deli owner Stefano Coppola.
One of three members whose recent appointments were affirmed in Thursday’s elections, Coppola suggested the board might be playing it too safe.
“I’m getting the feeling that what we’re waiting for is someone to say: ‘Go ahead and do it. You’re going to be successful. There’s no risk at all.”
Coppola suggested that could be a very long wait, because opening a business under the best of circumstances is a gamble.
“It’s going to come with a lot of risk,” he said.
Coppola argued a market study that raised red flags shouldn’t necessarily drive the board’s decision-making.
“It’s time to get on the diving board and jump in the pool,” he said.
Landry and other board members pushed back on Coppola’s risk-averse assessment, noting that, while they questioned some of the conservative assumptions used in the analysis, the market study was crucial to persuading developers and financial institutions to back the project. In that respect, they said, the market study is critical, and proceeding with one that raises doubts about the project would be beyond risky.
“We’re not going freestyle here,” said board member Clay Whitney. “We’re following steps. We’re following stages. It’s been very organized, even if it doesn’t seem like it.”
It doesn’t, according to Chris Parker, who said abruptly canceled plans to announce the proposed site was the latest disappointment with respect to a project that doesn’t seem like it’s moving closer to fruition.
“It’s definitely disheartening,” she said.
Board members conceded the market study was an unexpected surprise, but argued, while it initially felt like a “setback,” they had come to view it as more of a speed bump.
The site that was under consideration remains under consideration, and the possibility of revision of the project — potentially shrinking the store and adding other partners to the mix — is being considered.
However, while it is possible the store could shrink from the optimal 10,000-square-feet floor plan that has been discussed to something closer to 8,000 square feet, one member-owner wondered whether an even more modest project should be entertained.
“I’m concerned about the appearance of stagnation or plateauing,” he said. “Has the board looked at the concept of starting sooner, starting smaller, getting the thing off the ground and then growing it?”
Board members said the answer was “yes” and the data-driven conclusion was “no.”
“Those days are gone,” Whitney said. “You don’t do that any more.”
In order to cover the cost of overhead and keep food prices affordable, board members said a minimum store size of 8,000 square feet is needed.
A volunteer board that is carrying four vacancies even after Thursday’s election of Coppola, Quarry Pub & Kitchen owner Melissa Pecor and Landry’s father, Bruce, could use more members, more member-owners and more volunteers.
“We don’t have enough people here, we don’t have enough people on the board and we don’t have enough volunteers,” Whitney said. “It’s hard to get it done when we have so few people doing it.”
In the past year the co-op recruited 29 new member-owners, and while that is cause for concern, Whitney said progress is being made and there is room for optimism and excitement.
“We were this close to telling you a site,” he said, nearly pinching his right thumb and index finger together. “We were this close to being done with all this.”
While many had questions, most member-owners who attended the meeting expressed their appreciation for the board’s work and the thorough explanation of where things stand.
Eva Schectman was one of them. A six-year member-owner of the co-op and a member the Hunger Mountain board in Montpelier, Schectman said she was “disappointed” when she learned plans to announce a site had been scrapped, but appreciated the board’s explanation.
“I feel much more sympathetic than I did when I walked in the building,” she said. “I’m just going to chill.”
While preaching patience, Nick Landry said assistance would be even better.
“It’s a community project,” he said. “We need your help to make this happen.”
Those interested in serving on the board, one of its committees, or volunteering with outreach efforts can visit www.granitecitygrocery.coop.
BARRE — Things didn’t stop in the Granite City on Thursday, but they slowed down for more than an hour as local veterans stood in the shadow of “Youth Triumphant” and counted themselves among the lucky and the grateful.
While most of the country was working, Barre-area veterans paused to commemorate Memorial Day in familiar fashion — with a brief parade, followed by a ceremony that was a little longer than usual due to the number of speakers this year.
No one complained.
Not 93-year-old Tim Hoyt, the only World War II veteran, who attended the event this year, and not Wayne Pelkey, 87, who served in the Korean War and hitched a ride with Hoyt because his marching days are over.
Pelkey’s days of remembering the nation’s war-dead — a figure that now tops 1.1 million — aren’t, which is why he was among those who took a seat next to the kneeling, naked granite warrior that serves as the backdrop for Memorial Day in Barre.
Melvin McKnight, commander of the American Legion Post 10, got the ceremony off to a suitably somber start recounting the genesis of “Decoration Day,” which morphed into Memorial Day and had long been celebrated on May 30 until it was declared a national holiday in 1971.
It’s still celebrated on May 30 in Barre where McKnight welcomed a crowd to the wreath-laying ceremony.
“Today we pay tribute to those historic patriots who have made the ultimate sacrifice who bravely rose up and fought for something greater than themselves protecting a home to which they’d never return,” McKnight said. “We honor their service, we mourn their loss and we remember the families they left behind.”
McKnight invited everyone to join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and after the Spaulding High School band performed the National Anthem he turned the microphone over to Steve Weston, chaplain at Post 10.
Though traffic wasn’t moving on North Main Street during the duration of the ceremony, a passing train tooted through Weston’s invocation, which included excerpts from a prayer President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered during a 75-year-old national radio address on what is now known as D-Day.
Mayor Lucas Herring spoke next.
Herring leaned on patriotic platitudes — “All gave some, some gave all,” “We don’t know them all, but we owe them all,” and “Home of the free because of the brave” — early on in his address before marveling at the sacrifice of those “who left a legacy of freedom and democracy.”
“Those we remember today come from every gender, race and religion and are a diverse group wedded to a common principle that America is a nation worth dying for,” he said. “In making the ultimate sacrifice they’ve made a difference in all of our lives and for that we remember them here today.”
Chuck Barney, chairman of the Barre Area Veterans Council, followed Herring to the podium keeping a promise to read the names of those for whom recently installed flags that line both sides of North Main Street were donated.
It wasn’t a one-man job.
Barney, Chip Paine, Ron and Susan Tallman, and Dan Whitaker all took turns reading the names of dozens of flag donors and those for whom they had donated the flags, with Barney returning to finish the list and express his appreciation.
“It’s quite an honor to come down Main Street and see the flags flying to honor all … the poor souls that gave up their lives for us today — the true Memorial Day,” he said.
Paine, Ron Tallman and Whitaker all returned to the podium to make brief remarks between performances by the bands from Barre City Elementary and Middle School, Barre Town Middle and Elementary School and Spaulding High School, before McKnight recognized all veterans in attendance.
Ernest Sargent recited a pair of poems before Elizabeth Perrault and Maisie Lajeunesse laid the wreath at the base “Youth Triumphant” while two Spaulding students — one in City Hall Park and the other on the steps of the Aldrich Public Library — played “Echo Taps.”
That ate up the first 45 minutes and set the stage for Col. Albert “Albie” Lewis, who lives in Berlin and was invited to deliver this year’s Memorial Day address.
“Of the 1.1 million-plus men and women who have died in American military service, the vast majority are ‘everyday heroes,’” Lewis said. “They are brothers and sisters who fought for us, who have left unfillable holes in families, communities and hearts across the country.
“Their friendships, their bravery and their commitment to duty will never be lost,” he added.
Like those who spoke before him, Lewis thanked veterans for their service, urged others to do the same and stressed Memorial Day should be “a day of remembrance and reflection,” not the tail-end of a three-day weekend.
“Memorial Day is more than a holiday or a day off,” he said. “It is a chance to reconnect to the genesis of our nation’s innumerous freedoms. It is an important day on which we ground ourselves to the reality that every Gold Star Family knows: Our way of life has been shaped and made possible by those who were lost.”
Following Lewis’ speech Susan Tallman read a poem, all three bands performed again and Weston offered a closing prayer that wasn’t interrupted by a passing train before the road that runs through downtown Barre was reopened and veterans like Hoyt and Pelkey headed home.
BARRE TOWN — A Hill Street resident wants a sidewalk built on his property so local kids don’t have to walk in the street.
Josh Howard owns a home between Trow Hill Grocery and a playground. Howard said the store has an ice cream stand so kids are constantly walking back and forth between the store and the playground.
“So I said, ‘I might as well call the town to see if they can put a sidewalk in.’ Because a lot of people are walking through there, a lot of kids. Some people almost get hit (by cars) because people drive fast through here,” he said.
Howard said he got in touch with Assistant Town Manager Elaine Wang who had him count the amount of people walking across his property. He said he gave Wang the information and the town decided against putting the sidewalk in.
Howard said he was told the town didn’t want to build a sidewalk there because they didn’t want people to get the idea to call the town requesting sidewalks to be installed.
Howard said Hill Street is set to be paved this year, so he thought it would be a good opportunity to widen the road and add a sidewalk.
Howard said he’s willing to raise money for asphalt and build and maintain a walkway himself, but that could be tricky because it would be in the town’s right of way.
In the meantime, Howard said he’s considering putting some signs up to advise drivers to slow down and watch for children.
Wang said she understands why Howard took away that the town doesn’t want people requesting sidewalks, but that’s not exactly the message. She said building a sidewalk there is not off the table and the town is willing to consider building it.
“It’s not a priority right now because, especially this summer, there’s a lot of work that we need to do. So we would have to build it into next year’s budget,” she said.
Wang said the town hasn’t discussed the feasibility of a sidewalk there. She said sidewalks are expensive to build and maintain, adding that just because a resident thinks a sidewalk should be installed on a certain road, that doesn’t mean the project would make sense for the town. She said the Select Board would have to sign off on the project, and it would need to go through the budget process.
“It’s not that it’s not something we want to do. It’s just that we’d have to do it thoughtfully. There would have to be a process,” she said.
As for Howard installing the sidewalk himself, Wang said that could be a possibility, but he would have to get permission from the town to do so.
“This latest U.S. administration has shed any pretense of trying to be an honest, neutral broker and has overtly chosen sides. For Palestinians and their allies, this simply proved their assumption, that the U.S. had always been in the pocket of Israel.”
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A look at next week’s 20th annual Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference in the Capital City on Wednesday. A3
A rally this Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City that led to the birth of the LGBTQ movement in the United States. A3
Plants, Pies and Pocketbooks
Fresh baked pies, bedding and perennial plants, purses, jewelry, scarves and tools. 9:05 a.m. to noon. Church of the Good Shepherd, 39 Washington St., Barre , 802-476-3929.