The Belfast Co-op is a community-owned grocery store and deli/café located in downtown Belfast, Maine. Founded in 1976, their pride in being Maine’s oldest food co-op and efforts to uphold the pillars of cooperative enterprise are evident in all their operations. Based on the values of democracy, solidarity, self-responsibility, equity, equality and self-help, co-ops offer a radical alternative model in the age of big-box consumerism and multi-national conglomerates.
As part of their mission, they make it a priority to support local, organic and natural farmers and producers. Waldo County is particularly rich in diverse, small-scale farms, giving the Co-op a unique chance to benefit the producers and consumers in the region. They strive to offer a wide selection of quality products at reasonable prices (organically produced and locally sourced when possible) to support healthy lifestyle choices for their member-owners and the general public. In just the first eight months of 2016, they have sold $2,054,430 worth of Maine goods. Those sales were handled by a staff of over 90 hardworking worker-owners, keeping quality jobs with many opportunities for investment and growth in this community.
Participation in programs such as Maine Harvest Bucks (a nutrition incentive program that rewards SNAP/EBT shoppers for local produce purchases) helps the Co-op reach out to customers in need. Charitable contributions are also built into its model of operation. With every transaction, customers have the option of rounding up to the next dollar to support a rotating array of local groups and nonprofits. The Co-op also makes direct donations to a number of causes, and seeks to be a safe place for people of all sorts to gather and feel at home.
Throughout the year, the Co-op hosts educational events such as movie screenings, lectures, and classes on everything from cheese making to promoting pollinator health. Its quarterly forums are open for all member-owners to add their voice to the agenda and help the Co-op chart its course toward the next horizon. Guided by the seven cooperative principles, they have successfully navigated the stormy seas of retail with their cooperative sails intact. This summer the Co-op celebrated their 40th birthday, and they intend to be a vital part of this unique community for years to come. They have been a catalyst of, and an anchor, in downtown Belfast, a city, which has been one of Maine’s greatest downtown revitalization success stories.