ELLSWORTH — The Blue Hill Co-op has specialized in organic, local and natural products for 45 years.
And now, it’s offering those goods in a shiny new, energy-efficient space.
The new store, at 70 South St., opened July 27.
There is triple the square footage for retail space compared to the old store at 4 Ellsworth Road — from 1,800 square feet to 7,014 square feet.
The expansion has enabled many more offerings that members and shoppers have been hankering for, including space to sell fresh fish and organic, fresh meats.
General Manager Kevin Gadsby said every department has expanded: bulk, beer and wine, cheese, grocery, dairy, frozen, produce and wellness.
There is a cheese counter and cheese manager Robin Byrne said there would be space now to hold wine and beer and cheese tastings.
The café is larger and there’s a courtyard with a seasonal outdoor café.
“Overall, we are thrilled with how things have developed,” Gadsby said, a week after the soft opening. “Many things will continue to evolve and improve going forward.”
“Of the many things to be excited about in our new Co-op space is the number of trees that will soon be planted on the property,” said Gadsby. “The rooftop solar installation is set to commence in mid-September, fully-funded by a generous grant.”
The new store has 70 parking spaces and good sight visibility in both directions, unlike the older store, situated near a curve in the roadway, with 16 parking spaces.
The Co-op, working with the town of Blue Hill and the Maine Department of Transportation, has helped get a crosswalk for South Street. The crosswalk is directly across from The Bay School and features flashing lights.
Architect Bruce Stahnke has designed a walking path that takes pedestrians from the crosswalk down to the store.
Speaking of walking, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust owns a five-acre parcel behind the Co-op’s new store. A trail behind the Co-op’s new neighbor, Mainescape Garden Center, connects the area to downtown via Parker Point Road.
Speaking of neighbors, most are pleased.
“The Bay School and our families, faculty and staff are so excited for the opening of the new Co-op across the street from our school,” said the school’s director, Marcia Diamond.
“We are currently working on the development of a trail to the crosswalk that will allow safe crossing of South Street for all who look forward to shopping at the store and enjoying the new cafe.
“We also know that our many visitors to Emlen Hall, where we host many public events, will also appreciate the new store and its convenient location,” Diamond said.
“It’s good news for the town of Blue Hill,” said Chuck Lawrence, who owns Tradewinds Marketplace with wife, Belinda. Having more variety keeps local shoppers in town “so everybody does well,” Lawrence said. “The Co-op definitely has variety. It’s something that prevents business from leaking to other towns that have natural foods.”
From its early roots as a buying club and then its transformation into a co-op, the store has affected the Blue Hill Peninsula by creating a hub for local organic farming, say two founders, Tim Seabrook and his wife, Leslie Cummins.
“There are a lot of farmers who sell to the Co-op here,” Seabrook said. “In the ’90s, we made a policy that we were only going to buy organic produce.”
“It has created a food hub here,” Cummins said.
The new store is all computerized.
“It’s going to be quite different for us old hippies,” Cummins quipped.
“The scanners at the cash registers [at the former location] — I remember when people didn’t want them,” Seabrook recalled. “They were the devil.”
The Co-op had long outgrown its former location at 4 Ellsworth Road at the bottom of Greene’s Hill. The store had been there since 1993 but had several other homes before then. In the early days, the Co-op was operated out of its members’ homes.
The new property is funded by over $2 million in investments and donations by over 250 co-op owners as well as financing of $3,965,000 provided by:
- Coastal Enterprises, Brunswick.
- Co-op Fund of New England.
- Rural LISC (Local Initiative Support Corp.).
“In this day and age the most important thing is it is not a corporation,” Cummins said. “All the money made here — and these days it’s a lot — all of that money stays here.”