In spite of an ownership change this past month, Elm City Market plans to retain most of its employees, including 16 graduates of local workforce development programs.
Having experienced serious financial woes, the market will no longer continue as a co-op, meaning customers will no longer share equity in the store and will also lose influence in the grocery’s food decisions. The store was then auctioned to local philanthropist L. Linfield Smith, and, under the new ownership, the grocery store will change its name to Elm City Community Market but will retain management personnel, including CEO Douglas Berson, and most of its employees.
Several of these retained employees graduated from STRIVE, a three-week job-training program that focuses specifically on helping former prisoners obtain jobs in the local economy.
“As far as word of mouth, at least 95 percent of the staff will remain,” said Emmanuel Isaac, STRIVE graduate and Elm City Market employee. “Titles of their jobs may change, but people won’t lose their jobs.”
Many STRIVE graduates who joined the grocery store were recruited through social service centers around the city. STRIVE President and CEO Wilderman said these students often have high barriers to employment, citing legal offenses and older age as key challenges these individuals face.
However, after relearning critical social skills, receiving guidance on job interviews and reforming attitudes through the STRIVE program, these students become attractive to city businesses, including the market, that were searching for new employees.
STRIVE Employment Specialist Tony Evans said that the Elm City Market and the Omni Hotel are the two largest employers of STRIVE graduates in New Haven. Of 125 students in last year’s graduating class, 91 are employed.
In an effort to make these individuals attractive job candidates, the program covers topics ranging from “knowing how to sell yourself, to elevator speech, to building your confidence, to being able to look someone in the eye and say that ‘I am the best candidate for this job,’” according to STRIVE Training Specialist Matilda Bonilla.
Upon graduation, students can interview for jobs within the company and have access to networking and career development resources, such as mentorship advice and practice interview sessions.
In addition to Elm City Market and the Omni Hotel, STRIVE graduates are employed at a wide variety of New Haven businesses after completing the program, including Yale, Yale-New Haven Hospital, Ikea and STRIVE’s umbrella program Career Resources. According to STRIVE President and CEO Scott Wilderman, one in 50 people in the New Haven workforce have graduated from the STRIVE program.
“From a community standpoint, I would say we are very well embraced,” Wilderman said. “We’ve never had a loss of numbers for New Haven, because we are so entrenched in the community.”
Elm City Market first opened in November 2011.
Correction: Oct. 20
A previous version of this article stated that Elm City Market’s Board of Directors voted to discontinue the co-op model. In fact, the board did not vote on this, though the market will no longer operate as a co-op.