The new Greenstar Cooperative Market, which opened on Wednesday, Aug. 24 is the first grocery store in Collegetown since the IGA shut down in the late ‘80s. It was scheduled to open a week earlier, but all the construction going on all around it made it impossible for full-sized delivery trucks to get to it. So instead Greenstar staff brought merchandise in by hand in the back of small moving vans.
A decade ago developer Josh Lower first approached Greenstar with the idea of opening a Collegetown store, but that idea ran aground. Six years ago Lower came back to them and the planning began in earnest.
Greenstar actually has a trained architect on their roster, Pam Wooster. She and other members of the marketing staff designed the interior of the retail area. Lower’s building is commercial on the ground floor and residential on the upper floors.
“There is a huge focus on the grab and go,” said general manager Brandon Kane, “with as much regular grocery as is possible.” The space is about half the size of the West End Greenstar and the focus will be getting customers in and out quickly. It will be entirely self-service; there won’t be any people behind a deli counter measuring out prepared foods.
There will, however, be a dining area, which marketing manager Joe Romano described as “comfortable, beautiful, and simple.” It is meant to be a place that students can hang around if they just need to get away from their roommates, he said.
Greenstar hired a manager for the Collegetown store three months ago. Nathaniel Foster was a known quantity; he had been a representative for United Natural Foods, the largest distributor of natural and organic foods in the country.
“He was our sales rep with them,” said Romano. “But he was traveling from Maine to the Carolinas, and he wanted to get back into the coop world.”
There are 14 employees at the new store. It is a mixture of seasonal staff from other Greenstar locations and new hires. Romano said that several employees volunteered to move to the Collegetown store because “everything is shiny and new there.”
The biggest challenge related to the new store, said Romano, was building systems to distribute stock to all three of the Greenstar locations. That is now done from the business office across West Buffalo Street from the West End store.
The project also faced challeges for several years before ground was broken. Initially the parking requirements in the zoning ordinance prevented the project from going ahead. Changes to the zoning laws for Collegetown in 2014 solved that problem.
Greenstar used the long lead time before construction began to do research on what sort of store would serve the East Hill customer base best.
“There is a large bedroom community behind Collegetown that was not as well served by Greenstar,” said Romano. Kane pointed out that the Belle Sherman neighborhood had the lowest ratio in the city of residents to Greenstar members.
“So, we hope they come to visit us now,” said the marketing manager.
Romano and Kane said that they don’t assume that people further down East Hill we walk up the hill to College Avenue. “There is a real geographical separation created by that hill to keep them away,” said Romano. These residents are already in the habit of using the Dewitt Mall store.
To gather data about their potential customers Greenstar conducted surveys in the foyer of the West End store, held a meeting at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Collegetown, and Lower hosted several events to seek public input.
“It didn’t really come out in the surveys, but I’ve heard it anecdotally so many times,” said Romano, “that students take the bus to Wegmans, but they say they would go to a store in their neighborhood if it was there.”
One thing Romano was surprised to find out about was the amount of “food insecurity” on the Cornell campus. Although the student body has the reputation of being wealthy, there are low-income students on campus for whom transportation out of the Collegetown food desert had been a problem.
Greenstar has arranged for students who are receiving Pell grants or other federal financial assistance to be eligible for the Greenstar FLOWER (Fresh, Local, Organic Within Everyone’s Reach) program, which entitles you to a 15 percent discount on all merchandise. Non-members who are accepted into the FLOWER program receive a free one-year membership.
Collegetown is notoriously empty during the summers, but Greenstar has decided to not only stay open through summer 2017, but also maintain its regular hours, which includes being open seven days a week.
“We’ve gone and talked with other businesses—the liquor store, the convenience store, the deli, even the Starbucks—about the yearly cycle,” said Romano. “We’ll see what happens this year.”
One thing that Romano knows is that the buzz about the new Collegetown store is bigger than any other project Greenstar has taken on. Far greater than the opening of the Space@Greenstar, for example.
“I’ve been shocked by how well informed people are,” he said. “They are asking about the availability of bike racks; they’re drilling that deep.” People have been walking in off the street to ask questions before the store is even open.
There will be a grand opening weekend with a Thursday night concert on Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. and then events at the store on Sept. 9 and 10. §