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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Downtown Schenectady’s Push for a Grocery Store Persists


After ten years of tireless effort, the Electric City Co-op is undergoing a transformation as it continues to expand its membership and scout for the perfect location for‍ its long-awaited grocery store in downtown Schenectady.

The organization, now ‌known as the Electric City Community ‌Grocery, has been actively exploring various ‌sites in recent months. One promising location on lower Erie ⁣Boulevard offers high vehicle ⁣traffic and is⁤ within walking distance of a new⁤ transportation hub on State Street, according to ECCG board president Eric Johnson.

In an interview with The Daily ‍Gazette, Johnson revealed that ‌plans for a​ grocery store ‍at 141 Erie Blvd. are still in ⁤the early stages, but the co-op is collaborating with a developer and the Schenectady County​ Metroplex Development Authority to assess the feasibility of a 12,000-square-foot store with 100 parking spaces. The site is less than half ⁤a mile‍ from a CDTA transportation​ hub near Gateway Plaza.

The property, currently owned ​by Schenectady​ County, was⁤ previously occupied ​by vacant buildings that were demolished earlier this year through a partnership with Metroplex and ⁤the Capital Region Land Bank.

“Right now, we’re envisioning a one-story building solely dedicated‌ to the grocery store,” said Johnson. “However,​ Metroplex is ‌interested in exploring more⁣ density. We’ll be conducting core sampling to assess the feasibility of multiple levels. Once we have​ more information, the developer will make ‍decisions about ⁣the height of the building.”

Ray Gillen, chair‍ of the Metroplex board, confirmed their collaboration​ with the co-op, but declined to provide further details. “We prefer not to comment on projects until a lease is signed,” he said.

The ECCG board member ‍Rick Mausert indicated ⁣that several potential sites have been evaluated, but⁤ they see great potential in ‌the Erie Boulevard location due to its high⁣ traffic‍ and proximity to other areas of downtown.​ However, no⁣ contracts or letters of intent have been signed and​ the‍ search for the perfect location‍ continues.

“We’re all hoping for a bustling 2024,” ​said Mausert with enthusiasm.

News of a potential location along Erie Boulevard ‍is the⁢ latest development in a decade-long ⁣quest to address​ long-standing⁤ food access⁤ issues faced by Schenectady​ residents by bringing a grocery store to the downtown area.

The city is home to over 60,000 residents, but has only two ​grocery stores within its borders – a Market 32 on Eastern Parkway and a smaller Price Rite Marketplace in Crosstown ⁢Plaza near⁢ the‌ Rotterdam border. In recent weeks, the public has grown more aware of these food access challenges with ​the surprising announcement​ of ShopRite’s closing of ⁤all its Capital Region locations, including its‍ Niskayuna‌ store which employed 127 ⁤people. Wakefern Food Corp.,‍ the parent company‌ of ShopRite, cited low sales and a competitive‌ market as reasons for the closure.

The ECCG ‍was formed a decade ago, ‌and while ⁢the organization​ has seen success in⁤ attracting new members, finding a storefront has been ‌a⁤ challenging task despite promising developments over the years.

Last ⁢year, an exploratory committee was established between ⁢the ‍ECCG and Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, but it was dissolved due to disagreements over member labor requirements. Honest Weight also expressed ⁢its ⁤desire to build its core location.

Johnson explained that the Honest Weight model of relying on members to run the daily operations does not​ align with⁢ the ECCG’s goals. “We want to create ​paying jobs to support our workforce. So we won’t be adopting a volunteer model like​ Honest Weight,” he stated.⁤ “Their system works well for them, but‍ it’s not something we’re looking to implement.”

The ECCG was also considering taking over‍ the ⁤site of the former⁢ OrthoNY​ building on⁣ Liberty Street, ⁢but those plans⁤ were halted when ‍the Schenectady City School District purchased the property.

However, the ECCG has received substantial financial support from the ⁢city and county. Both have allocated a total of $4 million in federal ​coronavirus-relief ‍funding towards the ‍project. These‍ funds will be used to purchase equipment such as‌ freezers, cash registers, and other necessary items once a store has been built.

The Schenectady‍ Foundation has​ also contributed $20,000 to the ECCG, some of⁣ which was used for the organization’s rebranding effort. Johnson explained that the rebranding was essential ⁣to make the co-op more inclusive.

“We realized that our membership, based on quantitative research, ⁢primarily⁤ consisted of middle-aged Caucasian individuals,” ⁣said Johnson. “We want to ensure‍ that the⁤ ECCG‌ represents ⁢and serves all people⁤ in Schenectady.”

In addition to the ECCG’s efforts, a separate initiative is underway⁤ to convert a former ‌car dealership between Albany and State ⁢streets – on the border‍ of the Hamilton Hill and Vale neighborhoods‌ – into‍ a grocery store. However, these efforts are ⁤still ⁤ongoing. The county has​ pledged over $3 million to support⁣ this project.

Thanks to the public funding, the ECCG has reduced its membership fees from a one-time payment of $200 to just $25. This move has⁢ led ‌to a significant increase in membership, swelling to over 900 members this⁢ year from just 500 at the ‍start of the year, according to ‌Johnson.

“We’ve seen ‍tremendous growth,” ​he said.

Once the grocery ⁤store is​ operational, ⁢anyone will⁢ be able ‌to shop at the co-op. A membership will entitle individuals⁢ to a⁢ vote in key decisions affecting the ‌organization and ⁢eventually result in a patronage refund once the​ store begins making‍ profits – which Johnson estimates⁢ might⁣ take ⁤up to three years.

According to Johnson,​ the store will employ 25 to 50 individuals and⁣ will offer a wide ⁣range of products, from household essentials to ‍more high-end items, ​catering to the diverse needs ‌of the entire city.

“We’re committed to serving the entire Schenectady community,” he said.

Rafael Torres
Rafael Torres
Rafael Torres, a native of Schenectady, has returned to his hometown after several years of reporting in the Midwest. A graduate of Missouri School of Journalism, Alex is known for his empathetic approach to local news, covering everything from community events to local governance, always with an aim to bridge diverse perspectives.
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