CUMMINGTON -- The Old Creamery, one of this hilltown's favorite gathering places, is now owned entirely by the community that it serves.
The Old Creamery Cooperative, which consists of 550 member-owners, has formally purchased the popular grocery store, deli and community gathering place on Route 9 for $1.3 million from former owners Amy Tulley and Alice Cozzolino.
The sale recently closed in Springfield.
The price tag includes the purchase of the property, the store's inventory, a renovation and expansion project, and the costs of starting up the co-op, according to board of directors president, Kimberly Longey.
The majority of that sum, $1.25 million, will be used for the Old Creamery's renovation and expansion project. The co-op intends to expand the existing store space by 20 percent, improve the parking area and grounds, and add both an outdoor dining area and an ice cream take-out window, Longey said.
The co-op is financing the renovation project with loans from the Florence Savings Bank, member-owner equity that is being transferred from escrow, and member-owner loans and gifts.
The project is expected to begin in a few weeks, and be completed by the spring. The Old Creamery will remain open while the renovations take place.
Longey said the project is intended to "preserve the open, welcoming and homey feel" of a business that originally opened in 1886 as a dairy farmer's cooperative processing plant.
The Old Creamery became a cafe, general store and gas station 80 years ago.
"It's a formidable effort to raise $1.25 million from a small community," said Longey, who lives in Plainfield. "The fund-raising process took a long while."
It also took four months for the state Alcohol Beverage and Control Commission to approve the transfer of the establishment's liquor license from the previous owners to the co-op, but Longey said the wait was worth it.
"I think the most important reason the community went forward to explore this business model is that the Old Creamery is so much more than a store," Longey said. "It's really served as a hub of community activity, a gathering place.
"The previous owners had really established a cooperative vision for this store," she said. "When they decided to sell the community looked at what we had as an asset.
"Several of our members are members of other food co-ops so they know the strength that model can bring to a small business," Longey said.
The Old Creamery's new owners have also hired a general manager, Karen Doherty, who had previously managed a co-op in Blue Hill, Maine.
"She has great experience," Longey said. "We went through a national search, interviewed several candidates, and she rose to the top."
All 26 of the Old Creamery's employees, seven full-time and 19 part-time, will remain with the business.
To join the co-op, members are required to purchase a single share of stock for $150. Membership is "growing every day," Longey said.
The majority of the co-op's owners live in the hilltowns surrounding Cummington, but that some come from as far away as the Boston area, Connecticut, and even California.
"It's due to the amount of second-home owners in the area," she said.
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