History of our Co-op
The Belfast Co-op grew out of a pre-order food-buying club known as the Friends Co-op in Liberty/Montville. The founders of the Co-op were back-to-the land types, who wanted to make good foods available to the community at a fair price. After 3 years as a buying club, we realized that there was more than enough community interest to open an every day natural foods store.
The Belfast Co-op opened as a storefront business in 1976, at 16 Upper Main St, with an old wood floor and a sizeable parlor stove, and our motto “All are welcome” was born. Working out of an 800 square foot shop at 16 Upper Main Street, our pre-order activity attracted new member-owners daily and the Co-op grew to accommodate orders from non-members as well. It was very loosely run, with a Board of Directors more committed to providing good food for the community than making money, and monthly meetings took place at people's homes and always included a pot-luck supper.
The store ran in the black, with three full-time staff and many great volunteers, and attracted new member-owners daily. There were sketchy minutes taken, occasional committee meetings, and no term limits. There was one register, an oversized bulletin board and no produce for most of those years.
As the Belfast area and the natural foods industry grew, so did our Co-op storefront. Bulging at the seams with products and shoppers and with sales climbing into the hundreds of thousands, we voted to move in 1985 to our second location-- a 2,500 square foot storefront at 67 Lower Main Street. On a Sunday in August of 1985, the Co-op literally rolled down Main St. to its new, sunnier location. Like its predecessor, the Lower Main Street store had a wood stove, old wood floors, member work requirements, good inexpensive food, Crosby the Cat, and a friendly staff.
There was now space for produce coolers and lots more, including two new registers. A play area was added under the stairs. After a little while it became obvious that it was necessary to buy a computer to try to keep up with the growing sales and necessary paperwork. We added a few coffee makers and a daily crock-pot of soup, and continued to run in the black.
Growing beyond expectations, by 1990 we had begun considering another move. In 1993, after much debate and committee work, we voted to move into the current location at 123 High Street, site of the former Belfast A & P. Renovations began there in the late spring of 1993—allowing us to expand to include a deli and cafe and bathrooms for customers and staff—and we opened shop in November of that year.
In making this move, we expanded into 6,000 square feet of retail space, with downstairs storage, a receiving/loading area out back and full parking lot up front. We purchased the property in 1999. Following national co-op trends, we shifted from a dual pricing system (member/nonmember) to member register discounts to the issuing of an annual patronage dividend, and discontinued the sweat equity requirement in favor of selling membership shares.
We continue to undergo expansions and renovations to this day, including the construction of an addition for new offices in 2006, the installation of a walk-in cooler for our dairy and beer department and expansion of our receiving room in 2007, and the remodeling of our General Merchandise area in 2008. We've expanded our store hours to include all seven days of the week, added dedicated staff positions for education, bookkeeping, human resources, and IT, and grown to processing sales of over $5 million annually.
As we continue to grow and change, we still retain the same goals and mission statement reflecting cooperative values, and provide goods and services to our member-owners and customers who come to us from three counties in mid-coast Maine and beyond. With nearly 3,000 member-owners, we remain Maine's oldest and largest food co-op.