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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Noank Community Market is closing its doors Sunday

    Wendy Hann, right, helps customers Vincent Roman, center, of West Hartford and Rahul Vaidya, left, of Mystic with their lunch orders at the Noank Community Market Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. The market will be closing for good Aug. 16. Roman, who docks his boat in Groton says he loves the market and has been coming to the market for 18-20 years. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton — The Noank Community Market, a cooperative grocery with 500 members, will close Sunday because it hasn’t drawn enough business to sustain itself, the chairman of the board of directors said.

    “With great sadness, the Board of Directors has concluded that it has no choice but to close the market,” board Chairman John Sutherland wrote in an email to the market’s membership Tuesday night. “In spite of the steadfast support of our members and numerous others throughout the community, we have not been able to generate enough business to keep the market going.”

    The market at 17 Pearl St. opened in May 2012 as a cooperative after its predecessor, Universal Food Store, went out of business in 2011.

    About 80 people, mostly from Noank and Groton, lent money — in loans up to $1,000 — to help get the business started, he said. The market's membership grew to as many as 600 people at one point.

    Sutherland said the board believed in the business and had all kinds of ideas for it. “It’s difficult to have a store here but it’s not impossible, and we felt like we could pull in some additional business,” he said.

    The market tried a bakery. It looked into catering and selling health foods, among other ideas.

    It wasn’t a single thing that failed, Sutherland said; it was more that none quite gave the store the boost it needed to sustain itself.

    Last fall, the board changed management of the grocery, Sutherland said. Then winter hit. “Last winter was very brutal,” not just for the market but for all businesses, he said.

    The board considered keeping the store open seasonally, but even that carries overhead costs, and the grocery didn’t see enough of a jump this summer to make it work, he said.

    So the board decided to close and notified employees over the weekend. The market also began liquidating assets to pay debts. It may close before Sunday if produce and other food and supplies are gone earlier.

    It’s doubtful whether the business will be able to repay all of its creditors or pay back its loans, Sutherland said.

    The store has about 10 employees, he said.

    “My staff really care, so this is really heartbreaking,” manager Stacy Shaw said Wednesday.

    Shaw passed out tissues to employees and customers, who hugged one another behind the counter and in the kitchen in the morning, she said.

    Even during a blizzard, when there were 3 feet of snow on the ground, none of the employees called out sick or failed to cover for one another, Shaw said.

    “There’s no blame,” she said. “It’s just sad. It’s like a slow, painful death for us right now.”

    Even though she knew the store was struggling, word of the closing still felt abrupt and made people emotional, she said. The shock was made worse by the fact that the last grocery had closed and now it was happening again, she said.

    “There were some fantastic people who were running this, and some fantastic chefs, and it still didn’t work,” she said.

    Art Bedard of Canton spends seven months a year in town and stops in the store probably five times a week.

    “It’s a shame, because you don’t find these types of stores a lot,” he said, after picking up something to eat. “The quality is good, the people are good, and the best clam chowder…They put like five times the clam meat of anyone.”

    Charlie Larkin of Mystic works at the oyster co-operative nearby and stops in four times a week. On Wednesday, he walked in as usual and saw a sign the store was closing.

    “It’s a real bummer,” he said. “The staff’s super nice, the food’s good, it’s convenient and I drive 10 minutes to get lunch.”

    Despite the loss, Shaw said she still believes in her "heart of hearts" that something will work there.

    “The community is definitely going to feel a huge loss,” she said, but added, “Whatever is going to happen next, support it. And be excited. Because something is going to happen next. Something good.”

    d.straszheim@theday.com

    Twitter: @DStraszheim

    Vincent Roman, second from left, of West Hartford and Rahul Vaidya, right, of Mystic chat over their lunch at the Noank Community Market Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. The market will be closing for good Aug. 16. Roman, who docks his boat in Groton says he loves the market and has been coming to the market for 18-20 years. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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