News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, June 26, 2014
Worker cooperative officially purchases Burnt Cove markets and V&S

by Jessica Brophy

More than 60 employees of Burnt Cove Market, The Galley and V&S Variety officially purchased those businesses on June 11.

The workers formed the Island Employee Cooperative, the largest worker cooperative in Maine and one of the larger worker co-ops in the country, earlier this year. According to a press release, the combined businesses are one of the largest employers on the island. With the help of the Independent Retailers Shared Services Cooperative and the Cooperative Development Institute, as well as the support of the former owners Vern and Sandra Seile, the cooperative moved forward to purchase the businesses.

“It feels great,” said Deanna Oliver in a recent phone interview. “It doesn’t quite seem real because we’ve been waiting so long. It’s exciting to be working for our own future now.”

There may be changes in store for the businesses, as Mark Sprackland of the IRSSC said the cooperative will undertake a “formal outreach to find out what customers like about the businesses and how to better serve them.”

Cooperative member Les Weed said the cooperative doesn’t want to change what people like, but are hoping people are vocal about what they would like to see.

“We’re honored to be serving this island community,” said long-time employee and cooperative member Alan White. “We hope they talk to us, tell us what they think. This is about island people serving island people.”

In terms of the changes already, Weed said the cooperative members see their jobs differently. “A lot of people are taking on new responsibilities and learning new ways to do things,” said Weed. “A lot of people are excited to take on the responsibility.”

White said it’s been quite an adjustment. “For the first time in our working lives, we’re owners and we’re responsible. We reap the benefits of our labors. We’re not just responsible to ourselves, but to the other coop members.”

Oliver said the cooperative owes a debt of gratitude to the Seiles. “Without the two of them, this wouldn’t have been possible,” she said.

Seile said he was “pleased that we were able to help the employees purchase the stores that Sandra and I have built over the last 43 years. It’s our way of saying thank you to them and our customers for their support.”

Sprackland said the IRSSC will be offering the cooperative support and guidance for the next five years.

Each worker-owner has one—and only one—share in the corporation and one vote in its governance.

Two community development finance institutions, Maine-based CEI and the Cooperative Fund of New England, organized the financing to buy the businesses.