Community co-op market will open in former Universal Food Store

Groton - What was once the Universal Food Store in Noank will reopen soon as the Noank Community Market.

"A lot of people were very saddened by the loss of the Universal in September," said Bailey Pryor, president of the board of directors of the new, nonprofit Noank Community Market corporation. "That was really upsetting to the community."

Pryor, part of the group that started the Fiddleheads Natural Food Co-op in New London, said the original group of 16 people that started the Noank effort has grown to 130, with members coming from Stonington, Mystic, Groton Long Point, Mumford Cove, Noank and Fishers Island.

"Everyone wanted their village market back," he said.

After researching options, the group settled on a co-op because it offered the best options and the best chance for a successful business model, said Pryor. He cited Fiddleheads, and the Willimantic co-op that has been in operation since 1976, as examples of thriving co-ops.

"We are changing the structure of what was in the store to something more typical of today," he said. "The co-op is unique, and they have successful track records all over country."

Pryor said the Noank Community Market will offer natural, organic and gluten-free foods. It will also include a bakery and catering service, with food prepared by Gwenivere Lyon, a professional baker and chef from Munich, Germany who has worked in Italy, Switzerland, Germany and the United States.

"The butcher's counter is what Universal was known for," said Pryor. "And it had a great reputation for its deli and pizza. That won't change."

Customer comforts will include a seating area, coffee bar and Wi-Fi connectivity. Customers do not have to be members.

Pryor said many of the people who have signed on to the project have also pledged a combined total of about $125,000 in five-year, interest-bearing loans to fund the operation. Loans range from $1,000 to $25,000 and will earn 3 percent interest. The goal is to raise $250,000 to equip the co-op and start the business.

The group is in the midst of its membership drive and would like to double its funding by March and open by late spring.

Membership in the market is a one-time $175 fee, which provides the member with a single share of stock, voting rights and a discount on purchases.

Other members of the board are vice president Sandy Van Zandt, treasurer John Sutherland, secretary Timothy Bates and at-large members David Cruthers, Daphne Vayos and Eric Janney.

C.POTTER@THEDAY.COM.

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