Putney Food Co-op
Year founded: 1941
Member investment: $75
Number of members: 1,700
Number of employees: 40
Retail square feet: 2,800
The Putney Food Co-op in Putney, Vermont has long been an example of how to serve a small community well with a small store. What it lacks in square footage, it has made up for in exemplary customer service and well-curated grocery aisles. It embodies a “big enough to meet your needs, small enough to meet your neighbors” ethos.
Its growth has been carefully tended over the years in response to community needs and wants. Recently it has become clear that the co-op needed to add mover space in order to provide a better workplace and community gathering area. The co-op is currently engaged in an expansion project that will expand the co-op’s production kitchen, create more office space, add two bathrooms, as well as expand fresh food departments in the store.
The co-op also has a symbiotic relationship with the much larger Brattleboro Food Co-op in the neighboring town, and that has been a consideration in planning. Each co-op is a complement to the other in terms of providing services to their respective communities.
One of the instigating factors for the co-op was a huge need for more gathering space. “People in Putney love to come together, and we didn’t have the capacity,” said Robyn O’Brien, the co-op’s general manager. Watching people come to the co-op and turn around and leave when the seating area was full or see the bathroom line too long, was heartbreaking. Soon they will double their indoor seating area, and improve the outdoor seating.
With the assistance of CDS Consulting Co-op’s store designer Nicole Klimek and deli and prepared foods consultant Kevin O’Donnell, O’Brien feels confident that the co-op has the right plans in place. “Kevin knows our area really well and offers practical and achievable advice with easy metrics. Our deli manager has grown so much working with him. Nicole’s been so great to work with, so smart and fun. This project planning has been a joy.”
O’Brien is thrilled that the co-op has also experienced such longevity and integration in Putney. With a population of 2,400, nearly the whole town is a member of the 77-year-old food co-op. That’s right. Putney Food Co-op is a septuagenarian and going strong.
Instrumental in its founding were two women named Carol Brown and Alice Hallway. Brown was considered a “health nut” back then, promoting wheatgerm and backstrap molasses as healthful ingredients. The co-op started in Brown’s basement and was led to incorporation by Hallway. “Even back then people wanted a store where they could buy and sell local products and own their own store. They were very progressive,” O’Brien said.
The co-op is still being impacted by the activities of local strong women. Putney Food Co-op is Marilyn Scholl’s home co-op, and gaining a place in the spotlight as Scholl is inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame this May. “We are thrilled for her. Marilyn has always made herself available to the co-op and I so appreciate it. With Rochelle Prunty (River Valley Co-op general manager) Alex Gyori (retired Brattleboro Food Co-op general manager), Sabine Rhyne (current Brattleboro Food Co-op general manager) and Marilyn nearby, we have an All-Star co-op population.”Add to favorites