Troy food co-op closes

troy food coop now open sign

The co-op opened after much anticipation in October 2010, and made it a little more than a year.

The Pioneer Market -- The Troy Community Food Co-op -- closed Saturday. The co-op emailed members the news Saturday night and posted a message on the org's Facebook page. (The email is pasted in full after the jump.)

The co-op had reportedly seen a bump in traffic lately because of the opening of the nearby City Station mixed-use development. But it wasn't enough. From the email: "While the co-op has had some good days, our monthly sales still remained well below the level we needed to make the co-op a sustainable business. We lost money every month during our first year, and essentially we have run out of cash."

By many accounts the market got off to a rough start when it opened in October 2010, and it made appeals to members on multiple occasions to help keep it afloat. In July it warned that closure could come soon.

The idea for the co-op was a good one -- downtown Troy lacked a supermarket, and the co-op held the promise of a consistent source of healthy food for the area. But the execution seems to have been uneven. As Mike Avent -- who joined the co-op's board this past summer -- explained in a Soapbox piece here on AOA in July:

The reality is that the co-op has never been on firm footing. In some ways, every day we've been open has been a minor miracle. I believe we opened the co-op with the minimum amount of capital needed to get the doors open. We have been in a slow moving crisis ever since. Undoubtedly, board and owners patted themselves on the back for a job well done when we should have scrambled as if the fate of the co-op depended on it.

There's a meeting for owners planned for November 1 at the Christ Church United Methodist at 7 pm to discuss the closure.

More coverage:
+ The co-op still owes $1.8 million to banks, government agencies, and the Community Loan Fund -- plus what members loaned it. [TU]
+ Of the co-op's cash situation: "The numbers were very stark," said the board president. [Troy Record]
+ The co-op's lenders are trying to find someone to re-open the market. [TU]

____

From: Pioneer Food Market
Date: Sat, Oct 15, 2011 at 8:00 PM
Subject: Co-op to close Oct. 15; Meeting of owners Nov. 1
To:
It is with great regret that the Board of Directors of the Troy Community Food Cooperative, Inc. announces that our business, the Pioneer Market, will close effective 8 PM on October 15. While the co-op has had some good days, our monthly sales still remained well below the level we needed to make the co-op a sustainable business. We lost money every month during our first year, and essentially we have run out of cash.
We are also sorry to state that given our low level of cash and the large amount of money owed to commercial creditors for the loans we took out to start the co-op, it will not be possible to repay owner loans or refund member equity.
Owners are invited to a meeting to be held at 7 PM on November 1 at Christ Church United Methodist, 35 State Street in Troy, to discuss the closure decision with the Board and to vote to formally dissolve the co-op.
Thank you for your support of the co-op.
Steve Muller
President, Board of Directors
Troy Community Food Cooperative, Inc.

Find It

Troy Community Food Co-op
81 Congress Street
Troy, NY 12180

Comments

This is terrible news. I'm actually not sure where I'm going to go for food now. 

As a newcomer to Troy I'm faintly aware that I've landed in a hornet's nest of bigotry and counter-bigotry, although I'm not up on all the details. All I know is that I loved being able to walk to the Co-op from where I live a few blocks away. The product mix was quirky and the prices were sometimes high, but I could find 95% of what I needed. I was just glad not to have to rely on the scuzzy corner markets that are everywhere in downtown Troy with their beer, cigarettes, chips, and maybe a couple sketchy quarts of milk. Why couldn't one of them go out of business? Or that weird Uncle Sam's supplement store?

I went into the Pioneer Market late on Saturday afternoon, to buy a lemon. That's all that I bought. How apropos.

I live within walking distance of Pioneer. When it first opened I made a deliberate effort to shop there. Pioneer was a choice, not a necessity, because I work in Albany and travel quite a bit. However, more recently, I have actually avoided the place, because I realized that I just didn't like shopping there. The location was poor, the selection was poor, and the general shopping experience was depressing (color scheme, too-bright lighting, aisle layout, that awful piped-in music). The people who worked there were very nice, though, I should say.

A question for the Pioneer Market founders: "Have you ever been to Honest Weight in Albany?" (Answer: "Yes") Rejoinder: "What were you thinking?" Seriously.

A poor aesthetic sensibility and an even worse business sense is what nixed that place, not the "members who did not shop there". (By the way, it really pissed me off when they complained about member non-participation. They would never ask for your member card at check out! How could they make such claims?)

The people who started Pioneer missed the mark in so many ways (location, general aesthetic, etc.), but their failure speaks to the larger problem of Troy. Troy in general misses the mark, because of a split-personality problem. There seems to be this movement or desire for Troy to be "hip", which would make it some kind of trendy destination for capital region wanna-be yuppies. Then there is another undercurrent, one that seems to think that building more halfway houses is the key to Troy's success.

Pioneer failed to cater to a critical demographic (i.e., those who have a choice), so it failed. This is a good thing in the end.

Troy is never going to become a thriving, "hip and cool" place, because demographic reality is standing in the way. Troy is poor and downmarket. There is no critical mass of people within the area that would make an "upmarket" model such as a food co-op sustainable. I am not lamenting this, I am only making an observation. Personally, I don't want Troy to become a yuppie (or hipster) bastion. Live and let live, or leave (a very strong possibility in my case).

If the city planners want anything that even approaches a Hudson or a Beacon ("Williamsburg on the Hudson" - vomit), they must address the demographic issue. A food co-op (a term most people don't even know the meaning of) will not thrive in a city populated by people who would just as soon shop at "C-Town". (I must say, though, that my Mom always claimed that C-Town had the best meat selection in town...better than Waldbaums.)

Troy: Do more to end out-of-wedlock births among poor, under-aged girls from broken homes (this starts in grade school), and stop opening your doors to halfway houses full of mentally-ill drug abusers. Within 10 years this will improve livability within Troy, and it will lessen the burden on the school system and city services (cops, fire, etc.). The "rich" people who are going to support a food co-op model and bring economic "progress" are not going to live amidst such endemic social decay and depravity. Wake up.

Sadly, Troy has very few examples of Quality, beyond the quaint old buildings. With the exception of Placid Baker and maybe Daisy Bakers, there is not much here in Troy that would draw me, if I did not live here.

A rough assessment, I know. Go ahead and flame me, but you know it's true.


So sad! A beautiful and CLEAN store with a selection catering to people with a discerning palate. Prices were higher on some items but that is to be expected with such a huge start up cost and no customers. Stores get discounts and can in turn give them when they are buying large quantities. But you can't buy large quantities if there are no customers to sell them to! I will miss the bulk section items for sure as well as the ability to ask for a specific item and have them order it in for me. The store had some obvious management issues and I hate to say it but perhaps downtown Troy wasn't ready for a store that nice.

I don't live in Troy, but how is the coop closing a bigotry issue?

I am a former employee of the market, I have lost my job behind the closing of this market. There was no warning to the employees who worked very hard for this co-op, with the holidays around the corner and families to feed, they should have warned us so we were prepared for this, we were assured by management this was not going to happen and then bammmmm, we worked saturday and were called saturday evening to tell us the news. I myself turned down other employment bc we were told the store would not close. What the heck happened, why didnt anyone care about the ppl who work there and support their families. If i were to leave I would give notice, a common courtesy none of the employees were shown. Pioneer is a beautiful market with a wonderful crew of employees and had so much to offer the city if it was just done the right way, advertise, specials, discounts, promote the business dont shut it down. I t was one of the nicest places in Troy, Troy has nothing left to offer the community, this could have been bigger and better if only the board had promoted it more...... now look where we all are now. shame on the board for letting this happen and to the way they treated the employees who worked so hard.

I'll sound like a broken record if I get into this too much, but I just wanted to say that the worst aspect of this story was, by far, the way the employees found out. That was just wrong and my heart goes out to them.

Joe wrote:
> Sadly, Troy has very few examples of Quality, beyond the quaint old buildings.
> With the exception of Placid Baker and maybe Daisy Bakers, there is not much
> here in Troy that would draw me, if I did not live here.

Just curious, Joe, if you find Troy as depressing and low-quality as you describe it, why would you want to live here, given that you work in Albany? Or are you just drawn to the quaint old buildings?

I shopped at the Pioneer almost every day since it opened, and always on foot. It was a great improvement to daily life in Troy. I liked the food selection and I was very glad that it was not like the Albany co-op, which I only visit rarely for gourmet treats.

I can't help but feeling like the Pioneer owner profit share model was a little misguided, though. Perhaps a better model would have been just a straight up nonprofit model. Yes, that would take yet another downtown building off the tax rolls. But...the benefit to the city as a whole is clear.

I think there are a number of well-intentioned people, who prefer to shop elsewhere, but who would have been happy to make an annual, tax-deductible donation to support a local, downtown Troy grocery store and the folks who worked there. A nonprofit org would be eligible for many grants as well.

Personally, I’d rather just see a for-profit grocery store in Troy.

There’s another possible model where the grocery store could be for-profit, but there could also be a nonprofit “Friends of Pioneer Market” that helped support the place.

I realize this comment is perhaps a little dull. But in my observation, none of the "owners" had any plans to ever make money through the profit share model. And many folks who became members did so just to support the place in theory. Those are the people who were understandably put off when they received those awful badgering emails trying to guilt them into shopping at the co-op more. But I think they would have been happy to simply donate to the market without shopping there often.

Maybe the next time someone tries this, they might look into a nonprofit model, or a for-profit model, with a supplemental nonprofit "Friends of Market X."

I loved this place so much, and this is very sad news.

Duncan, you can't have a non-profit that exists solely to prop up a for-profit entity. Trust me, we looked into it. If the founders of the Co-op were serious about building a lasting institution, they wouldn't have opened when they did with the personnel they had.

The die was cast long ago, and shocker, retail startup with 1.8 million in debt is not long for this world...

As for employees, it truly couldn't have happened any other way. Creditors are already beginning the process to collect their collateral. Once word gets out, its a few days until the bank shows up with some burly guys and a truck to rip the freezer out of the wall, and freeze our accounts. It was very literally a choice between providing notice and providing a final paycheck for you... I think with that in mind, you might agree we made the right decision.

Anyone who turned down a job because of promises made by the management has my sympathy. I know I wasn't happy about the recent article in the business review that made things seem chipper...and taking holiday orders was a total farce in my view.

It's sad, and too bad. I realize that a lot of people put in a lot of time and effort to try and make it work, and they should be commended for their time and effort. But something was wrong with the model.

What happened to a bit of sweat equity by owner members? I tried to help out with setup before the market opened and was rebuffed. It appeared from the beginning that owner help was not really wanted. I would have loved to make the bulk spice area much more user friendly. I would have loved to get emails saying a volunteer is needed for two hours for such and such task. Never happened. An involved owner would be buying from the market. What did it mean to be an owner anyway? Not much.

So when the request for more money was made, I simply said no, and was willing to forfeit the membership. And when they stopped restocking the staples that I came in regularly to buy, there was less and less reason to go there to shop. And virtually no communication. I learned more about "my" market from AOA than from communication to owners. So, for me, the market had closed many weeks ago.

Dan, I had a similar experience. When organizing first began, I was an active member of the community relations/volunteer committee. I volunteered all the time at the farmers market to try to build membership. I had a lot of ideas of things we could do, and was willing to help organize, but they never went anywhere. Most were dismissed as not appropriate, or something we "weren't going to do", such as going door to door to talk to people. Eventually I felt like the board members wanted to take care of everything themselves, and therefore got quickly burnt out. The original committees seemed to dissolve without concern, rather than continue their usually monthly meetings. I couldn't make the two volunteer meetings in August, one regarding social media, but emailed the organizer directly to say I was interested in helping with whatever they came up with. I didn't get a response. I also didn't see any change in the way they were handling social media following the meeting. In the end, I know I could have been more proactive about volunteering, but I did express interest in August, and had never expressed dis-interest from my initial involvement, so this definitely could have been handled differently. To me, it basically seemed like Pioneer wanted to present a very professional front and operate as a normal business, rather than a more community-involved model I've seen at most co-ops. As you said, what did it really mean to be a member vs. a normal customer?

As a resident and former employee I am sad to see this happen, we needed to be concerned before not after, sad before not after. Troy and all the residents of, deserve a place like this, a place that is warm, friendly, foods hand picked with health in mind, prepared with health in mind and the one on one we could give to each and every customer. If you were looking for something special, the management made sure you got it immediately. I will miss the employees and the manager I had the pleasure of working with. I never saw such a caring staff, that saw to the food safety and quality that came into the market. Yes it maybe a little more expensive to shop there but the food and freshness and healthy way of eating was worth the few extra we charged. We dedicated ourselves to the market and the community because we care, because we are small and our custoners dont get lost in the shuffle. This is something that should not have happened and the residents of Troy should have just once popped in and saw what an amazing store this was. Im sad, Troy and all the residents deserve a nice place like this, I only wish everyone realized this before, not after.

Dawn & Jessica,

The original board was in many ways its own worst enemy. The debt and location were just at the top of the list...they also demanded that they be the gatekeepers to alot of issues that would have been better served with outside assistance, be it owners or staff.. The result was paralysis and a pretty horrible relationship between the board, staff and members. By the time things changed on the board, it was too late in teh day to do anything about it.

@Mike

------
Duncan, you can't have a non-profit that exists solely to prop up a for-profit entity. Trust me, we looked into it.
------

That makes sense. And I trust you that the group looked into this thoroughly.

But I wonder if it would be possible for the "Friends of Market X" to have a mission to help make fresh food available and accessible to low-income people 7 days per week and the Co-op were the vessel. That seems like a mission suited for a nonprofit. And I've seen on this blog many debates regarding the co-op's attempt to cater to both low-income and high-end customers.

Anyway I guess it's moot for now.

Mike, I completely hear and understand what you are saying but I say it is never to late to recognize and repair mistakes made. I wish I had known because it is not just my job loss that saddens me, although that is my biggest worry at this point, but I m sad for the ppl who loved the market too. I wish for the best for everyone and I have no ill will towards anyone. I just hope that maybe someone sees the potential that i see for this market.

Wow, some people's attitudes about Troy here are horrible and offensive. I live in Troy and its not so bad. Dont be afraid people! And while you wouldn't know it by reading these comments here, the Uncle Sam health food store is great and its owner Bari caters to all different kinds of people and, surprise, he runs a successful business in downtown Troy so if youre gonna hate on successful local businesses, sure be my guest but I don't see the point

Hey man, you cant possibly be judgemental of the troy school systems, especially if you have never been enrolled in one. They gave me the best education a person could have, and as well if you dont like the businesses in downtown, dont shop there. Buy a car and drive somewhere uptown. Im not putting fire onto you or trying to start an argument, all im saying is that you sound ignorant for making blanket statements, and if you dont like troy, then its simple. Leave.

That place was doomed from the beginning. I anticipated it's opening from the start, and when it did, I was amazed at all the products it had.The bulk items,salad bar,gourmet items---WOW! Then I started looking at prices. WHOA. $5 for a box of Kraft mac and cheese? Really?
Obviously, this was one of those rich,"foody" stores that caters to the elite, I thought.
I'd stop by now and then just to look around,like a kid in a candy store that had no money. I did buy some feta cheese once, but only once because I could get the same amount for $3 cheaper at Pricechopper. Granted I'd have to take a second bus to get there, but in the long run, it's still cheaper.
I'm not sure what the people who started this idea were thinking.We've been in a recession now, for years.Unemployment is still at a high.If you stood in front of the store and threw a rock in any direction,you'd hit a homeless person.Money is short and times are hard for most. Not all but most.Somebody didn't think this out in terms of reality. That's too bad. I have to take two buses to get to any Pricechopper nearby, so that's $4 right there. Plus it's usually a 2-3 hour affair, since my bus home runs once an hour,so If I miss it, I have to wait in the heat,cold,wet,etc,....
If the co-op sold regular food at reasonable prices, I'd shop there exclusively. That's one ride there,one ride back-$3 and an hour spent. Everyone from Griswold heights would shop there too.They wouldn't be able to keep products on the shelf quick enough.
Nah, I saw this coming.I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. I knew it would tank.

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