GREAT BARRINGTON — A sacred epicenter of organic and local food that is surrounded for miles by a hotbed of devotion has expanded its nucleus.
On Wednesday, shoppers at the new Berkshire Food Co-op were giddy — and in awe.
"I am in heaven," said town resident Jenny Fenig, marveling at the space, the light and an opportunity for the social heart of Great Barrington to expand as well. "You always run into someone you know at the co-op. I feel like the spirit of the co-op can grow."
The co-op moved next door, into the lower level of the new Powerhouse Square apartment, retail and office complex.
Above it, Powerhouse developer Benchmark Development has 22 condominiums in the works, as well as street-level office and retail spaces.
The former co-op building will be razed in about two weeks and turned into a parking lot. That demolition and construction will take about eight to 10 weeks to complete, said co-op Project Manager Daniel Esko, who said the groundbreaking began about 18 months ago for the $4.5 million build.
It would have all gone faster were it not for some alterations to the plans and the dogged spring rain, he added.
The co-op now has doubled in size, to 14,000 square feet, widened its aisles and tripled its inventory, stocking more than 900 new products. It also has an expanded deli, prepared food, and hot bars and salad bars, and also sells a small selection of beer and wine.
Indoor seating has jumped to 37, and outdoors, it still is the same — at 32.
Staff has increased by 10 and will continue to increase as needed, Esko said.
Volunteer Asa Hardcastle handed out maps as shoppers entered and uttered many a "wow."
"I don't know where anything is anymore," said Juniper Shalles, 19, whose mother works at the store.
"Whole Foods," said Sam Banks, 18, grinning at the industrial-style design with its concrete floors, open ceilings and modern lighting.
His mother, Kate Banks, grew nostalgic at seeing the baby co-op all grown up — and her children along with it. Many remember its humble beginnings off Rosseter Street, then the move 15 years ago to Bridge Street. And now, this.
"They grew up here," Banks wistfully said of her now-teenage children before hunting for chocolate.
Mimi and Dick Alford, "The Alfords of Alford" as they like to say, were pleased with the reasonable prices, the "big but not too big" space and the expanded selection.
"I love it," Mimi Alford said. "I'm so excited, I'm buying a new [grocery] bag."
Employees also were happy — and relieved.
"Oh, my God, it is so good," said Guy Caswell, who was stocking produce and said this is a difficult department to work in without sufficient space.
"More options," said Hesty Morley, a longtime employee and buyer in the wellness department who said the store was too small to carry all the products that customers wanted.
"We could order them, but it's nice to have them on the shelf," she said.
The co-op, founded in 1981, is cooperatively owned by its members, who pay once for a share, currently $153. While anyone can shop, members get discounts on certain days and access to a bulk buying club.
The co-op raised $250,000 for the project from member/owners, and still needs to raise an additional $750,000 to settle unforeseen project expenses, Esko said.
Outside, it still is a messy and noisy construction site, but Esko said that, overall, everything should look more finished and cleaned up by September.
It has been 10 years in the making, said Esko, the former general manager who was replaced by interim manager Garland McQueen. Esko says that after the project is complete, he's not sure what he'll do.
But one thing is certain — the co-op will be here for at least 20 years, the length of its lease.
"We hope to be the hub of the community for decades to come," he said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.