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Local co-op effort draws enthusiastic crowd

Jan 04, 2011 6:23 am
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Folks came out in droves Sunday to discuss putting a new food coop into the old Philmont Stewarts Shop. Photo supplied by those behind the meeting."][/caption]John Mason has a story in this morning's Register Star about what turned out to be "one of the best turnouts for a community meeting in recent village history" when about 135 residents of Philmont and Clermont packed Village Hall in Claverack on Sunday afternoon to talk about the food co-op and café planned for the former Stewart’s Shop location at 116 Main Street set to be completed by April. “The morale and spirit of the room was very positive,” said co-op founding member Elizabeth Angello. “The village is going to be very pivotal in the contributing of their time to get this co-op going. We had a very good response to that request.” “I think I’m going to have to put the co-op meeting after my Village Board meetings to get more people to attend the Village Board,” joked Mayor Skip Speed. “There was a lot of electricity in the room.”

The goals of the meeting, Angello said, were to have residents say what they want the store to be like and to choose a name for it.

“They told us what they wanted,” Angello said. “Probably about 50 things.”

Among items on the list were affordable foods, local foods, a deli, fresh produce, jobs, green recycling, staples, community outreach and a teaching garden.

Angello said there’s quite a bit of space in back of the store that could be used for a garden, or for expansion of the store. She estimated the acreage at between half- and three-quarters of an acre.

The first working meeting, to which all are invited, is 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Main Street Pub. Speed said he would be there, to “see how enthusiastic everybody stays.”

The meeting will begin with short presentations on what a co-op is, and on Philmont Beautification and its involvement.

Philmont Beautification “secured the lease with an option to buy the land,” Angello said. “In addition, they are also a fundraising arm.”

At tonight’s meeting, she said, six teams will be established:

n The business plan team.

n The finance plan team.

n The store building design team.

n The co-op foods team.

n The co-op café team.

n The co-op members’ share team.

The teams have only five months to accomplish their goals before the June opening of the store; that’s the point when Stewart’s will begin charging rent, said Angello, who will serve as overall team coordinator.

Speed said this is doable.

“They can build a house in Hudson with a bunch of people who’ve never built a house before,” he said. “She’s [Angello’s] run a business, I’ve run a business. I don’t see why it would be out of the way. You’ve got a building already; that’s half the battle.”

But he said he had observed a similar interest in an earlier meeting about attracting businesses to Philmont.

“Everyone made suggestions, they broke into teams, at the end of discussion they all got together and voiced their opinions,” he said. “There was a lot of good output, but it all petered out. Tomorrow night will make my mind up or make me change it.”

The various teams will have their work cut out for them.

“The building design team will have the most pressure,” Angello said. In addition to coming up with the design, “it takes a couple months to get a building permit.”

The business plan team will discuss hiring and job opportunities, she said.

One of those jobs, the position of manager, will be put out for applicants, Angello said.

“I think there will be fabulous local professionals who come forward for that position,” she said.

In addition, the store’s name will be chosen at tonight’s meeting.

Also present at Sunday’s meeting was Town Supervisor Robin Andrews, who said she thought the attendance, including kids and presenters, was closer to 150.

“We had a really great turnout, with a spectrum of the community, which is great,” she said.

“I hope [the store] will succeed and serve the broad spectrum of the community,” Andrews said. “I’m hopeful they’ll be able to offer fresh staples — milk and vegetables.” Vegetables, she said, are “one of the things we’re really missing.”

People were asking whether Stewart’s would continue to distribute its milk and ice cream, she said, but they were told that the corporation doesn’t allow any of its products to be sold outside its stores.

“I wouldn’t have anything from Stewart’s there,” Speed said. “They just dumped us and ran away.”

The decision to close the store became public in early November. Speed said Stewart’s had to remove the gasoline tanks because they were leaking, at a cost of about $350,000.

“They dug enough soil out it’s not contaminated,” he said. “Twenty to 30 dump truck loads.”

After removing the tanks, he said, it would have cost a lot to build new concrete foundations and put in new tanks, especially with a new store opening in Chatham at the same time.

“To them, it worked out just fine,” he said.

Stewart’s originally opened where the Family Dollar Store now is, Speed said. In 1970, it moved to its current spot, taking over gas pumps that had first been Sinclair, then BP, and then were empty, which is “the worst thing you can do,” he said. “They rust.”

For the next four decades, the shop sold milk, eggs, bread and gasoline to a slowly changing village. Across the street was the gasoline station belonging to Speed and Red Schermerhorn. Originally, it sold Flying A gas; then Getty bought up Flying A, Speed said.

Now that station is the well-known eatery, Local 111, which will be witnessing the changes the community brings to the corner across the street.