A rendering of the renovations planned for the Belfast Community Co-op located on High Street in downtown. Credit: Courtesy of the Belfast Community Coop

The Belfast Community Co-op is preparing to launch a year-long, $6.4 million renovation of its High Street store that will expand the retail space and restore the popular cafe.

Founded in 1976, the Belfast co-op offered locally grown, organic food to people who purchased a membership in the store at a time when demand for that was high. It’s been located at 123 High Street in downtown Belfast, a former A&P supermarket, since 1993. It remains a membership-based store.

But nearly 60 years since it was built, the building has never been thoroughly renovated. It’s in need of some major upgrades, General Manager Doug Johnson said.

“We’ve seen what neglect looks like, and it hurts our operations, it hurts worker morale, it hurts our connection to the community. If it’s going to mean anything to this community, we need to reinvest in it,” Johnson said.

The current exterior of the 60-year-old building that houses the Belfast Community Co-op on High Street in downtown. Credit: Kay Neufeld / BDN

The project will expand the physical retail space, double the size of the bulk department and install more energy-efficient, eco-friendly infrastructure. It will also revive the co-op’s cafe, which closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to make space for curbside pickup.

The reopened cafe will have more seating and more food on the menu, Outreach Coordinator Alessandra Martinelli said. The curbside pickup program will move to a larger hub on the left side of the building.

“This is an investment to make sure that this co-op stays in this community,” Johnson said.

The Belfast Community Co-op Board of Directors have been planning this project for over six years, Martinelli said. It’s been a slow process because the co-op’s model requires the board to have consensus on all decisions.

Johnson said there was always consensus about the need for this project. Without it, he can’t imagine the store surviving another 10 years.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring and continue for about a year. But the co-op won’t close during the renovation. Instead, portions of the store will be closed in phases as the work progresses through the building, Marketing Manager Jamie Cermak said.

The co-op will host an informational meeting about the project for members on Friday, Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Hutchinson Center. A capital campaign, which will help fund the work through member loans, will also launch then. The co-op needs to raise $1.5 million to fill the gap from what they’ve already raised in loans and capital reserves.

Cermak acknowledged that concerns about the co-op becoming more expensive are inevitable. But at this time, he said, the co-op has no plans to raise the price of buying in or its stock.  

“The reason that this store came to exist was not to make money but was to support the people who live in this community,” Cermak said.