Brattleboro Food Co-Op
In 1975, the Brattleboro Food Co-Op (BFC) started out as a small buying club in a dirt basement. A group of people in the small Vermont town got together to increase buying power and bring in fresh foods that were unavailable in local markets. The business grew rapidly and only a few years later, BFC had moved from the basement to a nearby storefront. The cooperative has moved several times over the years to accommodate growth.
Nearly 40 years later, the business has grown to a large food cooperative with 6,600 active shareholders in Brattleboro, Vt., and the surrounding towns. Alex Gyori, the BFC’s general manager, answers to the board of directors and oversees a staff of 160 people. Gyori moved to Vermont in 1981 and began working with the cooperative in 1982. He and his team strive to offer members and customers a wide range of natural, healthy foods, often sourced locally.
BFC is open to the general public, though shareholder investments provide funding for growth. The cooperative asks members for an investment of $80, which pays for a single share of business while putting money into the organization for reinvestment. The organization also offers family shares for a $160 investment. These fees can be made in a lump sum or spread out over a few months. Shareholders benefit down the line from patronage dividends and store discounts, as well as other benefits.
Shareholders can vote in cooperative elections, run for positions on the board of directors and serve on advisory committees. Other benefits include check-cashing privileges, a free subscription to the cooperative’s monthly newsletter and discounts on cooking classes and other events. Shareholders may use the cooperative’s community room for events and meetings and are also invited to an annual meeting and dinner that is otherwise not open to the public. Member involvement helps to shape the future of the business and offers customers a voice in the operation.
In 2012 BFC’s rapid expansion required a new space. Therefore, Gyori and his team moved into a new 32,000-square-foot, environmentally-conscious building. The new state-of-the-art facility has 14,500 square feet of retail space, as well as a full commissary kitchen.
“Guided by what we call our 100-year vision, we decided on quite an expensive, state-of-the-art building,” says Gyori. “We harvest power through solar panels on the roof and we have triple-glazed windows to control our heating and cooling costs. We recycle the refrigerator heat into hot water and that helps us heat our building in the winter. The store is in a four-story building and we have partnered with a housing trust, so there are two floors of affordable housing upstairs.”
The new store has been a game-changer for BFC, although recent growth has come with its own set of distinct challenges. Shareholders have been working toward formulating policies that are better adapted to a larger organization. A larger store also means dealing with new suppliers to fill shelves. Gyori and his team are working to foster new relationships throughout the country while managing reasonable pricing to serve customers and members.
Still, the benefits outweigh the struggles. The new store has marked a turning point in the cooperative’s history. “We made a conscious decision as an organization with limited clientele to broaden our scope in the community,” Gyori explains. “We have been able to exponentially expand the market for our farmers and customers.”
To help ease the growing pains, BFC is associated with several organizations that offer support and opportunities for food cooperatives. “We work with the National Co-op Grocers, the Neighboring Food Co-op Association, which we helped found, the Cooperative Development Foundation and the National Cooperative Business Association. We are also involved with the Howard Bowers Fund, which provides educational funding for cooperatives.”
With strong support, Gyori says the business is on the upswing. The cooperative has a lot of room to grow in the new facility. Over time, the crew plans to fill the space with additional tasty, natural food and community programs. Gyori and his crew plan to continue to promote the business while maintaining a focus on the local community. The team supports local growers and families, but also performs charitable acts on a regular basis. BFC has a continuing food donation program for the local food bank and contributes to local and national causes, donating food, time and funds to those in need. Brattleboro Food Co-Op is a true community figure in Brattleboro and will continue to focus on service in the years to come.