Thursday December 6, 2012

LENOX -- A potential acquisition of Clearwater Natural Foods by Great Barrington’s Berkshire Co-op Market is off the table now that the market is moving ahead with a major relocation project near its current store on Bridge Street.

"We need to focus, at least right now, fully on our relocation project," said Berkshire Co-op Market General Manager Art Ames on Wednesday.

He said he has been "very consistent" with Clearwater co-owners Maggie Sadoway and Ruth Wheeler "to make sure that they make their own plans."

The health food store, acquired by Sadoway and Wheeler in 1980, has been on the market since June 2011.

"Opening a second store in Lenox was a very attractive option for us," said Berkshire Co-op Board Chairman Daniel Seitz. "It was a very difficult decision and no one felt happy about it."

"We’d love to see a natural foods store in Lenox -- we think that one belongs there," Ames said. "It’s not a question of desire, it’s one of resources. We recognize it’s really difficult to operate a single store in a business that has become an economy of scale."

"We’ll continue to work with them if they want, we sell them goods and help them when we can, and I imagine that relationship will continue," said Ames. He held open the possibility of reconsidering a potential purchase of Clearwater if it’s still on the market after Berkshire Co-op’s relocation project is completed.

At Clearwater, Sadoway said: "Ruth and I will continue looking at all our options, we are definitely open for business as usual."

Beyond voicing disappointment, she declined further comment. The co-owners first approached Berkshire Co-op last December about their interest in purchasing the Lenox business as a satellite operation.

Sadoway has told The Eagle that the challenge of operating an independent health food store has grown because of competition from Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, Stop & Shop and Price Chopper, which have all expanded natural and organic product lines with lower prices because of their high-volume purchasing power. She also cited the impact of Internet purchases, a trend toward less home cooking and the effects of the recession.