Updates from the General Manager

Nov 24, 2023 | Co-ops, Homepage, News, updates

November 24, 2023

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Grab the scarves and flannels! As the temperature dropped practically overnight in our coastal town, the focus of our ongoing renovation project shifted to keeping workers and shoppers warm and comfortable. We removed our ancient furnace at the height of summer and now as the days grow colder we are scrambling to find supplemental heat until the new furnace can come online. We installed two commercial electric heaters on the sales floor and have propane heat for the basement. My hope is that those solutions will be sufficient to keep us comfortable until the snow starts to fly.   

Construction work is coming together in some very concrete ways, as evidenced by the recent pouring of the patio off our new cafe. Inside, walls are going up in our new kitchen and in the new Shop for Me addition. We are finalizing the schedule for all the work that needs to be done on the sales floor and plan to start this phase after the holidays.

We recently finished our fiscal year and had strong sales growth, but we weren’t profitable which was anticipated and budgeted for. Although this stings a little bit, we’re proud of our decision to increase our starting wage to $15.75, bringing our average wage for workers to $19.24 and the median wage to $18.74. This adjustment brings over 90% of workers to a livable wage for Waldo County as determined by the MIT Livable Wage calculator. I am so proud of the work the BCC leadership, both management and the Board of Directors, have done over the last few years to make the Co-op a workplace where workers are able to meet their needs and care for their families in a safe and respectful environment.  

We plan to operate business as usual during the winter holidays, so please come in and take advantage of all of the savings your Co-op has to offer, or shop online utilizing our free Shop for Me curbside program.  Thank you all for your continued support of the Co-op. We are so happy you are here. Stay connected to your Co-op and track our progress by following us on our renovation page: belfast.coop/news/renovation

See you in the aisles!


August 10th, 2023

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.” – Charles Bowden

Summer is an amazing time to be in Belfast. The bay is warm enough for nightly after-work dips to wash off the day. Pick your own berries are in abundance. The sounds of live music permeate the downtown on Thursday nights. The smell of backyard barbecues when you go for an evening stroll. I wake up every day thankful to be here at this moment in time and experiencing all that our community has to offer.

As I write this we are heading into our twelfth week of construction. Since the groundbreaking, I have been filming regular weekly updates on the project and updating owners as best I am able during such a dynamic time and I hope you all feel as though you have been brought along for the ride. Much progress has been made in the basement, preparing the space for new refrigeration, electrical, and water service. We have begun building the new prep area for the Meat department and storage rooms for Prepared Foods and Grocery. Outside the foundations have been poured for our new cafe, our new Shop for Me area, and the vertical lift. We have installed a new underground propane tank and a new underground grease trap. It is amazing to begin to see the project that we have worked on for so long finally start to materialize.

Despite the construction, the store has been astonishingly busy this summer. July was our highest sales month in our 47-year history and customer count has been consistently up 10% over last year. Our Common Cents recipient for July was the Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine (SASSMM) and their total donation was the largest in the program’s history, just shy of $8,000!!! To do all of this in the midst of a construction project that often forced us to close down parts of our parking lot or to receive deliveries through the front door boggles my mind. Thank you all for bearing with us and continuing to stay engaged in the cooperative.

Get out and enjoy the sun and sea cooperators! It won’t be long before the leaves will be falling and we will be reaching for the wool caps and flannels. Stay connected to your Co-op and track our progress by following us on our renovation page:

See you in the aisles!

May 16th, 2023

For the past three decades, our Co-op has occupied the same location at 123 High Street in downtown Belfast. On May 15, 2023, we took the first physical steps to ensure that our Co-op will continue to thrive where it is planted for decades to come. There is a bittersweetness to this stage of the construction process, seeing what has been built up over the years now be marked for demolition. I have found myself wandering in the now empty basement of our beloved old building, which will be demolished and rebuilt in the first phase of construction, imagining what it will be while also being slightly wistful for all the days I have spent in that basement since I came to the Co-op twelve years ago. When I became the Marketing Manager my desk was a warped folding table up against the far wall. When I first became a member of the Board of Directors I attended committee meetings in the old conference room, many of which were about renovation and expansion. That same conference room became my office when I stepped down from the Board to become General Manager in 2015. I wouldn’t say I have a lot of fond memories of the space, but I have many memories.  

I would like to take this opportunity as we prepare to dive head first into the project to thank the over 230 Belfast Community Co-op owners that contributed to the Capital Campaign to fund our renovation. Together you raised over $1.5M in loans and donations and your contributions will allow us to fund this project without sacrificing the long-term fiscal health of the association. Being able to raise capital from our owners is one of the key differences between our co-op and other businesses and the enthusiasm and love for the Co-op that we heard from owners throughout the campaign was overwhelming and humbling.

I also want to thank our partners on this project: Warren Construction Group, our General Contractor, Woodhull Architects and Builders, and the development team at National Co-op Grocers. Thank you also to our financial partners Cooperative Fund of the Northeast, Coastal Enterprises, and the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund. Together you are building the future of the Belfast Community Co-op and we will forever be grateful for your contributions.
Thank you to our city representatives for the support that you have shown throughout the development of this project. Your dedication to maintaining a vibrant and thriving downtown is reflected in the continued success of our cooperative and I look forward to the future, working together to build a stronger local economy.

Co-ops are built by the communities they serve. This Co-op has been held together over the past 47 years by hardworking and dedicated individuals that believed that the work they were doing on behalf of the Co-op mattered. Volunteers and workers, friends and neighbors, all working together towards the common goal of offering this community a radical economic alternative, a more just way of meeting their needs. As we prepare for this next stage in the life of the Belfast Community Co-op, we recognize that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, larger-than-life individuals whose contributions have allowed us to be where we are. Thank you to everyone who helped steward this organization through its often tumultuous history.  

Here’s to the future of the Belfast Community Co-op. Owned by you. Food for all.  

Doug Johnson, General Manager 

March 17th, 2023

“It is so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, to have lived light in the spring, to have loved, to have thought, to have done.”

-Matthew Arnold

The days are growing longer.  Where the snow has been pushed aside we see the first signs of life returning, to our quiet coastal town, waking up from what felt like a long, dark winter.  The snow came late, but it came with a vengeance, making it hard for us to keep the doors open and the lights on during the worst of it.  However difficult the hardships, your community-owned Co-op made it through, and now the air smells of spring and renewal.

BCC sales for the first half of the fiscal year have been steady, up 3% from last year. We had a busy holiday season with sales in the week leading up to Thanksgiving up 7.5% over the previous year, and even without being able to offer Tide Mill local organic turkeys this year we still sold over 2100 lbs. of local turkey. Our Prepared Foods department had an epic Thanksgiving selling 123 Co-op Made pies that week, a 66% increase over the previous year!  We had our single highest sales day ever ($62,367) and our highest sales week ever ($273,611) during the week leading up to Christmas. We sold 161 MOFGA-certified Christmas trees from Skyscraper Hill Farm in Brooks, ME, and another 64 Co-op Made pies during the Christmas holiday.  

We closed on our renovation loan through the Cooperative Fund of the Northeast (in collaboration with Coastal Enterprises Inc. and the Local Enterprises Assistance Fund) at the end of January.  We will be utilizing the funds from the loan as well as those from our Owner Capital Campaign to renovate and expand our store beginning in May.  We are close to the end of our Owner Capital Campaign and all indicators point towards the campaign being a success.  With those funds we will be increasing our retail square footage by 33%, increasing both our dry and refrigerated grocery department by 100 linear feet and nearly doubling our Bulk offerings.  The renovation will allow us to bring back our co-op cafe while still allowing us to operate the Shop for Me program in a new, more efficient space.  We will be replacing and making necessary (and long overdue) upgrades to our infrastructure, including electrical, plumbing, and HVAC, as well as a monumental upgrade to worker safety and operational efficiency by including in the project the addition of a vertical lift.  Thank you to all of the owners who have agreed to loan to the Co-op to fund this project.  I am in awe of your generosity and your overwhelming support.  If you have questions or would like to get involved, please contact me at doug@belfast.coop

 This past February we hosted our first hybridized in-person/virtual Annual Meeting.  The in-person meeting was held at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center in Belfast with around 30 owners in attendance and another 21 attending virtually.  At the meeting we discussed the successes and challenges of the past year, the status of our Renovation Project and Capital Campaign, introduced our candidates for the Board of Directors election, and opened the floor for questions and answers.  Huge thank you to our fantastic Prepared Foods team for providing food and refreshments for the meeting.  We released our Annual Report for 2022 as well, you can find a copy in-store or on our website.  To read more about the meeting and to watch the video recording go to belfast.coop/annual-meeting-2023.

At the Annual Meeting, we announced the patronage dividend distribution for the 2022 fiscal year.  Our Co-op made $211,828 in pre-tax net income at the end of the fiscal year.  Roughly 66.7% of sales were to owners, meaning that $137,900 is eligible for distribution.  Of that, 20% or $27,580 will be payable back to owners based on their purchases in the 2022 FY.  Similar to last year, once distributed each owner will be given options at the register of how to utilize their 2021-2022 dividend, including using it toward purchases at the Co-op, paying towards their equity balance, receiving cash or check payout, or donating it towards the Equity Assistance Fund which helps sponsor owner equity for those in need.  After the deadline for claiming your dividend has passed, any full or partially unclaimed distributed dividends will be donated to But Still I Am One.

Also at the Annual Meeting, we announced that the Belfast Community Co-op is now the first co-op in the state of Maine that is able to offer the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program, better known as WIC.  WIC provides complete nutrition care for thousands of Maine families, helping Maine kids to grow up strong and healthy.  The WIC program serves more than 16,500 individuals. Pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age five are eligible. Bringing WIC on board has been a labor of love for me and our entire operational team and I am so proud of everyone who helped make it a reality.  More information about all of the programs that we currently offer to combat food insecurity in our community can be found belfast.coop/food-access.

Spring in Maine is a gift.  It is a reminder of why we have chosen to put down roots in this corner of the world.  Get out there and experience everything that our community has to offer.  While you are at it, stop into the Co-op and say “hi”.  It’s been a long winter but we made it through together.  Owned by you.  Food for all.

Doug Johnson, General Manager 

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