Throng of supporters back Williamsburg Market

  • The Williamsburg Market GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 5/15/2019 11:50:41 PM

WILLIAMSBURG — If there were any doubts about the desire of Hilltown residents to keep a local grocery store in Williamsburg, they were put to rest when a standing room only crowd showed up a meeting Tuesday night and expressed overwhelming support for the Williamsburg Market to continue operating as a local food store.

About 160 residents from Williamsburg and several surrounding Hilltowns packed the Grange Hall on Main Street eager to discuss the sale and fate of the Williamsburg Market, a store that has, under different names and ownership, served as the area’s grocery store for almost 90 years.

“I am stunned to see how full the room is,” said consultant Jade Barker of CDS Consulting Co-op, who moderated the community meeting.

For the last 29 years, the Williamsburg Market has been owned and operated by Jean and Angie Duquette. Now hoping to retire, the couple has placed the Main Street building and the business on the market, but they are adamant about finding a buyer or buyers who will continue to maintain a grocery store at that location.

According to Angie Duquette, the couple has received offers from buyers with intentions of turning the market into another type of business and those offers have been turned down.

A few months ago, the Duquettes turned to the community for help, and a small working group formed, organized by residents Lisa Bertoldi and Claire Bateman.

Tuesday night’s community meeting was the first to be convened to see if there is enough support to ensure the store continues to operate as a privately owned grocery, a food co-op, or a non-profit grocery store.

Barker, the consultant, provided a brief overview of the three possibilities noting that the process was still in its infancy and the various options and details would need to be researched by a steering committee.

Of the three options discussed, the majority of questions and support appeared to revolve around the idea of creating some form of food co-op.

“I think the idea of a co-op seems to have gone over well,” Angie Duquette said. “My one hope is that if anybody buys it outright, they do it before anybody invests a lot of money in creating a co-op.”

The Duquettes said that they are willing to keep the store “for a while” as the community rallies to come up with a workable solution for a sustainable, local grocery store.

Barker said she hoped that the meeting would generate volunteers for the steering committee, which would need people to work on things like research, financial analysis, grant writing, community outreach, fundraising, and organizational leadership.

Dave Christopolis, executive director of the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, has already been meeting with the community group.

“We are interested in supporting this business,” Christopolis said. “We have a small business association program that could prioritize this project and bring in people to help us.”

Christopolis said that the HCDC could help with a market study, community survey, and finding the appropriate lending services.

“If we get to a point where we have a feasible project here, we might be able to take advantage of state funding,” he said. “I don’t want to make any assumptions as to what this community needs, but I am going to attend the meetings and see what we can do to help.”

A food desert

Barker said that as large supermarkets continue to grow, small locally owned stores are struggling to remain viable. This is true in the Hilltowns, where a few small grocers like the Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington, Corners Grocery in Worthington and the Williamsburg Market try to effectively serve their communities in a growing commuter environment.

Christopolis, a resident of Goshen, said that he prefers to shop at the Creamery and the Williamsburg Market rather than having to drive to Northampton to get food.

Chesterfield resident Jan Gibeau, who is director of the Chesterfield Council on Aging and chairperson of the Northern Hilltown Consortium of COAs agreed, noting the growing number of seniors in the Hilltowns who are reliant on a local food resource.

“If we all shopped locally, we wouldn’t be here having to worry about this,” she said. “How do you put a price on accessibility and community? You can’t.”

One idea that was put forward at the meeting was that any future grocery store would likely do well if it could provide a delivery service to the large number elders in the Hilltowns.

“If you could do that, they would think they died and went to heaven!” Gibeau joked.

According to the Duquettes, the store brings in annual sales of $1.3 million and is currently on the market for $499,000, which includes the building and the business without the inventory.

The 6,000-square-foot building has an updated electrical system, new metal roof, wood floors, and the exterior was painted in 2018. The couple owns the store outright and the business has no debt.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Bertoldi said she was very pleased with the interest in keeping a grocery store in town.

“We were expecting between 20 to 80 people so it is very gratifying to see a big turnout like this,” she said. “I feel very hopeful because the questions and comments were very incisive and thoughtful, and I get the sense that this energy will be ongoing.”

Organizers say that the next steering committee meeting will take place on Monday, May 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Williamsburg Congregational Church. Those interested in committing time to the process are encouraged to attend.

An informational follow-up community meeting is scheduled for June 18 at the Grange Hall in Williamsburg at 7 p.m. The group is also open to receiving ideas for future of the market at wbm01096@gmail.com.




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