BARRE — A market study that raised red flags has derailed the hoped-for big reveal of the future site of the Granite City Grocery and has members of the cooperative’s elected board ready to solicit a “second opinion.”
That’s where things stand heading into Wednesday’s annual meeting — a session during which board members had hoped to answer at least one of the frequently asked questions posed by the co-op’s anxious member-owners.
The problem? They don’t yet have the data to support what Board President Nick Landry recently vowed would be “a data-driven decision” and the market study, prepared by Dakota Worldwide, may have raised more questions than it answered.
“We didn’t get the ‘slam dunk’ we were hoping for,” Landry said. “We don’t have what we need to engage developers.”
According to Landry, that makes identifying a site wildly premature and has board members bracing to answer tough questions about the path forward instead of marking an important milestone.
The format for the annual meeting has changed. Though there will still be food and entertainment, Landry said Wednesday’s 5 p.m. annual meeting at the Barre Municipal Auditorium won’t include an exciting announcement. The board, he said, will provide an overview of what has been done so far, explain how it plans to proceed and then open it up for questions in a “town hall meeting” format.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We were really excited we were going to fast-track this project and we’re just not there.”
Landry said the board has concerns about the conservative methodology employed by Dakota Worldwide and serious questions about some of the firm’s underlying assumptions.
“It wasn’t a gleaming market study,” he said, adding: “We need a second opinion.”
Landry said the board had hoped to avoid the extra $10,000 expense, but noted commissioning multiple market studies has become “common practice” in the world of cooperatively owned grocery stores.
While Landry didn’t delve into the details of the study, he said one of its mistaken assumptions was to treat Granite City Grocery like “a traditional co-op” — one that caters primarily, if not exclusively, to those interested in organic food products. That has never been the vision for Granite City Grocery. Although “walk-ability” has been the top priority, “affordability” has been a close second and plans have always envisioned a more traditional grocery store like the one Barre lost when Grand Union closed in 2002.
Landry said that business model is not reflected in the study that lacked the clarity needed to lock down one of the short list of sites that were under consideration.
“They didn’t tell us the project is dead but we have to make business sense out of it and it was very difficult to make business sense out of it,” Landry said, suggesting ambiguity wasn’t helpful.
“Having a study that raises concerns makes it hard to sell to developers, financial backers and potential lenders,” he said. “We’re asking for them to walk a risky path with us.”
Landry said the board has tasked its site development committee to re-evaluate three potential sites and bring back a proposal that can be subjected to a second market study in four weeks. It is unclear whether the committee’s work will involve revisiting key criteria established early on. To date, the board has been looking for a site that could accommodate a 10,000-square-foot grocery store, with a truck access and a minimum of 40 parking spaces.
The co-op has recruited more than 700 member-owners in the past seven years and all have been waiting — some more patiently than others — for a return on their $200 investment. Unable to report promising progress on the site selection front, Landry said board members will field questions instead.