“Trying to get people to come back in here and trying to navigate a climate that isn’t conducive to retail right now has been a huge challenge. I had six years of experience with Sheepscot General in Whitefield prior to this, both as a kitchen manager and store manager. Covid-related reasons took me away from that and I needed something to put my heart into again. A friend informed me that the Gardiner Co-op was in real need of some help and new management, so this became it for me.
I’m learning that location really drives what type of products are wanted in the store. Things that were very popular up in Whitefield, which is only 15 minutes away, are very different from what people want down here in Gardiner. We have multiple vendors from right here in Gardiner like Andrew’s Farm and Oakland Farm, as well as Commonwealth Poultry who has a processing plant here. Other products are supplied from Bowdoinham, Monmouth, Albion, and all over. A lot of local vendors had stopped supplying the Co-op so that has been another challenge. The variety of vendors is not quite as big as it used to be, but I’ve been trying to get creative. Being a co-op, it is our job to make sure that there are things in the store that people want and their voices are being heard. That’s the difference between a co-op and a traditional business model. The community kind of owns the store and we answer to them. It’s really just about community and inclusivity and it being more of a democratic sort of function. We have about 400 active members right now, and more that aren’t as active.”
“This may sound grim, but my hopes for the near future are just that we make it through Winter. It’s a challenge for Maine businesses in general, whether we’re in a pandemic or not. A lot of retail stores suffer through January, February, and March because Mainers like to hibernate. I just want everyone to know we’re here and that we’re motivated and open. I also would just like to thank the community for welcoming me. The other business owners that are here on Water Street are amazing, supportive, and all work together. Gardiner has been so amazing as far as making me feel at home.”
The revitalization of the Co-op is just one example of why it’s important to #ThinkGardinerFirst. The post-holiday Winter months present challenges for local retail businesses in Gardiner. Gardiner Main Street asks consumers to be conscious in the decision to continue the shop small movement after the excitement of December has passed. Connect with Penny and the Co-op by phone (207-629-3663), Facebook Gardiner Food Co-op, Instagram (@ gardinercoop), email (email@example.com), or on their website (gardinerfoodcoop.com).