Elm City Co-Op delayed again

Students hoping for a new grocery store opening at 360 State St. by the end of term will be sorely disappointed.

The Elm City Market, a food co-op expected to open on the ground floor of 360 State in March, will not open until early summer. Securing funding has taken longer than expected and the beginning of construction will be pushed back to next week, office manager Heather Hinckley said. If all goes to plan, the co-op will be done at the end of June, she said.

“We’ve been working very hard to get the financing wrapped up,” she said. “Opening will probably be summer, because whenever you deal with construction you never know what kind of delays you run into.”

Bruce Becker SOM ’85 ARC ’85, the president of the project’s developer, Becker + Becker Associates, said a USDA-guaranteed bank loan would be finalized within six weeks, at which time a four-monthlong construction period will commence. Stocking the store and training staff will take an additional six weeks, he said.

“In hindsight, it was overly optimistic to predict a March opening,” Becker said. “Taking several more months to make the organization and business plan stronger will make both more successful and sustainable.”

The project has already experienced delays . In September, developers announced that the opening date would be pushed back three months to March.

Josh Brau SOM ’12 FES ’12, who has worked on the project with Becker since May 2010, acknowledged that the Elm City Market has been criticized for its slow pace of development, but pointed to the comparative speed at which other co-ops get started.

“I think anyone who knows co-ops and how they work would acknowledge that typically it takes years for food co-ops to get off the ground and grow to the size that Elm City Market will be when it opens,” he said.

Becker said that the Elm City Market, which customers can join by paying a one-time fee of $200, has recently surpassed 400 members and has elected its first board member, Stephen Fries, a professor of marketing and hospitality management at Gateway Community College and a food columnist for the New Haven Register.

Still, Elm City Market is hoping to increase membership by another 250 members before the store opens, Becker said.

Membership entitles customers to receive annual dividends, elect board members, and make suggestions for the store’s inventory. Non-members are also able to shop at the Elm City Market.

However, the Elm City Market might face some serious competition: the New Haven Register reported Jan. 15 that a Shop & Shop contractor has recently inspected the former Shaw’s site.

Linda Townsend Maier, executive director of the Greater Dwight Development Corp., told the Register that though her office had not finalized the documentation for any deal under discussion and could not comment on any negotiations, they would be more than happy to have Stop & Shop in the city.

But neither Becker nor Hinckley are fazed by the prospect of competition.

“Everyone is going to have to give their A-game,” Hinckley said. “Competition is good for consumers so we welcome it.”

Becker said having a major conventional grocery store is very important for New Haven, and that broadening access to healthy food is critical to strengthening the regional food system.

The co-op, which will “emphasize whole, healthy foods,” is fundamentally different from a conventional supermarket, though it might have some overlap in products, Brau said.

“It will take more than two large grocery stores to transform New Haven from a food desert to a food oasis,” Becker said.

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