The times are changing in New England.
The fact that it wasn’t too long ago that the city had no store or market makes the Co-op market in New England even more of a success after just over a decade.
It was about 11 years ago that a group of wives got together and came up with a plan for a community co-op store that would replace the one that closed about two years earlier, according to the store’s manager, Shelby Clark.
Four years ago, Clark and her family moved from Flint in Michigan, drawn to New England because of the fact they could find a safe place to raise a family and an economical place to live.
After a stint working at the Express Stop in town, she took over as manager more than a year ago and has continued to build on the community success story.
The store was started because there was a big need that needed to be met, especially for the elderly, Clark explained.
“A group of people got together and met the need,” she said. “I know quite a few people who say they do not know what they would do if the store was shut down.” Driving to Dickinson in the winter is dangerous, especially for the elderly. That means the store needs to really focus on the community and what its needs first.
“We are a small store in a small community so we need to keep things simple and stock things people will buy and want to buy,” she explained.
“We don’t spend a whole lot of money on decorations.”
What she has done is focus on advertising. “We have an advertising department. We have made specific sales with specific dates and made a colored sales flyer. We have made a sales rack so everybody can see what is going on sale that week. We have the week after sales flyer that I distribute between the store, the post office and the Express Stop.”
In addition, the store has its own Facebook page. “I make sure the community Facebook page gets it, so even if you are not on our Facebook page, you can still see the grocery store’s ads through the community page.”
The store has also been reorganized to be more “seamless,” she added. “So it makes sense … crackers with crackers and cereals with cereals. It is more organized, concise.”
The store also now has sales on items that people want to buy, she said. “We have a price freeze now that lasts three months. That is very convenient for the customers.”
The market now is taking orders from the local prison that are used to restock the prison commissary.
In addition, the market is also with small local businesses as well as the school. “There have been a lot of changes in the last year or year and a half,” Clark said.
“I get a lot of compliments from people on how clean the store is, and how customer service is really good.”
The store has become a regular part of the community. “We donate to local organizations and we held the local school with concessions. The usually get things like lettuce and tomatoes from us if they didn’t get some from the U.S. Foods truck.
“The Express Stop buys all of its lettuce and tomatoes from us, depending on what they are having sometimes for their specials that they have every day,” she added.
There will be some more changes coming up in the next few months, including a plexiglass sign holder in front for the sales display. “It is going to be posted outside the front door. If people don’t have the internet, the can just see outside the store what is on sale.
“Over the summer, we got a new sign outside the store that is made of metal, instead of wood.
“We have got a bench outside the store that has been donated to us. It is getting old, so we are going to sand it down and repaint or re-stain it,” she added.
Most of the work will be with donated time and effort, Clark explained.
The community has been a source of great strength for the co-op market, she said. “Because we are a co-op, we have a lot of volunteers within the community to help out.”
As a way of demonstrated its close ties with the community, Clark said she is thing have possibly having a hot dog lunch set up for an hour. We have a lot of ideas about things we could do. It is just a slow going process.”
The market also notices the seasons when it comes to the customers. “We try to accommodate when harvest comes through for buying large amounts of bread and lunchmeats – the pack lunch kind of stuff.,” she said. “There is harvesting, back-to-school and winter baking season.”
The store already has a display of Halloween candies. We’ll usually get holiday cakes and baking stuff for the winter.
“We have a lot of the elderly here in town and they take the baking season very seriously. A lot of times, I will plan my sales items accordingly. Like right now, we have a price freeze going on until Nov. 3 and it has like baking chips, powdered sugar and brown sugar, dark brown sugar and flour. I try to get flour and oil on sale.”
The sales also take into account the unofficial seasons, like right noiw, which she called the “everybody gets sick season,” Clark added. “I usually have the cold stuff. I also have a new baby section that also has the cold stuff,” she explained. “Babies can’t have regular children’s cough and stuff. I’ll also have hand sanitizer and disinfectant hand wipes. Every body needs it, so they are going to buy it anyway.”
Among the areas she would like to improve upon is the meat department. At the same time, she has to match what is stocked with what the customers like to buy. “This isn’t going to work if they don’t want to buy it.”
Clark said that she has also discovered a nucleus of local people wanting to buy gluten free products. She started out stocking something for a friend who needed gluten-free products. “She didn’t have a vehicle, so going to Dickinson was difficult. I went ahead and made a gluten-free variety.
“I didn’t know celiac disease was as bad as it was. I got it specifically for one person to help them, but as soon as I did that, the community came together and told me how many people have it (the immunity disorder that can damage the small intestine) and how wonderful it is to have the option here at the store.
“We have sugar-free options. We have gluten-free options. They are specific. They say right on the packages.”
It has been four years since Clark and her family moved to New England, and she is glad she made the move.
“The crime and the crime rate. It was all bad. The housing industry was bad. The job industry was bad. It was just not a safe environment to raise a family. It seemed like all of Michigan was kind of failing,” Clark said.
Now, the family is in an entirely different place, geographically and otherwise.