BARRE — Though Granite City Grocery won’t open this year, its future location could be announced during the upcoming annual meeting of a cooperative whose members are hungry for some sign of progress.
Nick Landry, president of the co-op’s elected board, said the panel is weeks away from making what he vowed will be a “data-driven decision.”
“That’s our hope,” he said of plans to announce a location at the annual meeting that will be held May 29 at the Barre Municipal Auditorium.
Armed with a newly delivered market study that, for the first time in what has been a years-long process, analyzes the viability of a short list of specific sites, Landry said the board must plow through that document and determine whether any of the proposed locations actually work.
“We honestly don’t know right now,” he said.
Landry said the new study provides a level of detail the board never sought before abandoning preliminary plans to occupy the downtown storefront that was the decades-long home to Homer Fitts department store, most recently housed a furniture store, and is now being fitted up for a fine meat producer. Publicly discussed as a possibility three years ago, that location’s obvious shortcomings for redevelopment as a grocery store never warranted a site-specific market study, he said.
Landry said the board learned a lesson from its public flirtation with the former Homer Fitts building — a move that prematurely raised the hopes of anxious member-owners only to later let them down.
He acknowledged a range of rumors involving possible locations for Granite City Grocery but declined to comment on any of them.
“We don’t want to talk about it before we know it’s going to happen,” Landry said. “Once we talk to the property owners and we get something signed and we know that’s where the grocery store is going to be, then we’ll talk.”
Landry said no options have been signed, no purchase and sales agreements are in place, and there have been no negotiations with property owners.
He hopes that will soon change, but without having reviewed the market study he just received, he conceded there is a chance it won’t.
“We’re going to know whether we’re going to have something viable out of this market study and we’re going to be able to negotiate with a property owner and get some paperwork in place before the annual meeting,” Landry said.
“If all of that goes sideways, we might have to stand up and just explain that this isn’t viable and figure out where we go from here as a co-op,” he said, predicting that conversation with the co-op’s member-owners would be precipitated by “a very long and not-fun” discussion among board members.
Landry said he’s cautiously optimistic the market study will confirm one or more of the proposed sites would be a viable location. Optimally, the board is looking for 10,000 square feet of space, with truck access, a loading dock and 40 dedicated parking spaces.
Landry said all of the sites still in the running present their own challenges and could require the board to revisit some of its criteria.
“There is no slam dunk on the short list,” he said. “I will sleep much sounder once we have something on paper.”
Landry said there is a sense of urgency on the board.
“We’re not sitting and waiting,” he said. “We’re at a point where this is make it or break it.”
The board is reviewing a job description for a project manager — a contract position that would help the all-volunteer panel build capacity and advance the project to the point where it could hire a general manager and plan for construction.
Assuming they get to that point, Landry said, the project’s timeline would be reasonably predictable.
“It will take nearly a year to physically build the grocery store,” he said.
Any of the sites now under consideration would require massive work that in some cases would require gutting the building to the framing or razing existing structures.
“We don’t know if we’re leveling a building, we don’t know if we’re pouring a ton of concrete, at this point we just don’t know,” said Landry.
Landry stressed much will depend on the results of the market study and what he hopes will be speedy negotiations with property owners.
“We’ve got a little over 30 days to get those answers and then we’ll know,” he said, predicting the annual meeting will provide the co-op’s members with a substantive update on a project many have been asking about.
“I can’t walk down the street without hearing it,” he said.
The time of the annual meeting hasn’t been set, but Landry, who is in the process of lining up speakers, said it will be held May 29 at the auditorium.