WATERVILLE — For the last six years, Barrels Community Market has been a fixture in downtown Waterville, providing locally grown produce from area farms.

But for the next month, the Main Street store will be closed as it undergoes restructuring and prepares for a reopening in September.

Helping the market — which became a co-op two years ago but hasn’t been able to sustain itself financially — is Colby College. Collaborating with the restructuring is the latest step in the college’s program to help revitalize downtown.

Waterville Food Cooperative officials say the restructure plan is to offer more prepared foods, like soups, sandwiches and salads made with locally grown food, while also working on developing a longer-term sustainable financial plan for the market.

The financial plan is where Colby may be most effective.

“The store is important to Waterville, and I think what people find the most beneficial is prepared food,” said David Shipman, president of the board of the co-op. “Right now we don’t have the capacity to do that in a sustainable way.”

The partnership with the college is still in the planning stages.

“We’re really kind of leaving it in their hands to determine what they need,” said Colby spokeswoman Ruth Jackson Monday. “We’d like them to express how we might be helpful to them, and then we can offer that support.”

One thing the two groups have talked about is the development of a business plan using resources at Colby.

“I think the bottom line is that Colby thinks it’s important for Barrels to succeed,” Jackson said. “We want it to succeed and we’re willing to help in any way that would be useful to them. Barrels is an entity that brings people downtown, that supports local farmers and businesses and offers high quality local goods. It’s definitely an important quality of downtown.”

Besides the financial plan, the store plans to create new and expanded menus, buy new equipment and add tables for cafe seating.

The market opened as a project of Waterville Main Street in 2009 with the intent of becoming self-sufficient. The co-op was formed in 2013 and took over the market in July 2013. The mission, according to the market’s website, is to provide locally sourced and natural foods, to support a sustainable local food system, to build community by providing a place for people to shop, eat and socialize and to be a resource for the community on how to use healthy and seasonal foods.

As a project of Waterville Main Street, the store was supported by donations and grant money, but since the transition to a co-op the same kind of revenue is not available.

“In the course of those two years, Barrels has never been profitable,” Shipman said. “It’s never made enough money to sustain itself.”

The co-op inherited the structure of the store, inventory, shelving and refrigerators, but the new group didn’t have a lot of funding, according to the co-op’s treasurer, Jennifer Strode.

The co-op is supported by equity members, each of whom pay $100. But money for some big-ticket items, like an oven that allowed it to begin offering Sunday brunch last year, was raised through donations. As Karen Heck’s last act as mayor in December, she launched a fundraiser that was intended to raise $5,000 by the end of this year so the store could buy a delicatessen cooler.

“What we rely on is the good will and participation of the members and the community,” Shipman said. “What we’ve learned over the last two years is that while the community appreciates fresh food and the availability of that, it’s not exclusive to Barrels.”

He said what Barrels has that other places don’t is “the ability to use that local produce to create food, to make good food, food that people are interested in and that’s healthy.”

“That’s something we do well, and it’s something that’s not provided by other places in Waterville,” he said. “There are plenty of places making food, but there aren’t a lot of places using local ingredients and promoting the local ingredients and producers. We think we can do that.”

Colby’s involvement came from a series of discussions with downtown businesses and civic leaders about downtown economic revitalization that have been going on for the past year.

“I don’t know if I would call them brainstorming sessions, but they’re kind of like that,” said Jackson. “We come together to discuss sort of what the priorities are for the continued revitalization of downtown.”

The discussions have already led to the college’s purchase of two vacant Main Street buildings, the former Levine’s clothing store at 9 Main St. and the Hains building at 173 Main St.

There are no specific plans yet for development of the two buildings. As with the Barrels relationship, the plans are still forming.

When the market originally started, part of its mission was to extend the market timeline for farmers at the Waterville Farmers’ Market. That intent has remained important to Barrels. Strode said the co-op believes it can better market food from local farmers through prepared items and by educating the public on how to use ingredients they find at the farmers market.

“Here’s this kale,” she said Monday at the store, using the leafy green vegetable as an example. “What do I do with it? Well, you can come into Barrels and taste something delicious that was made with this ingredient. You can keep on coming back and having us make it, or you can buy it off the shelf and use it.

“You don’t really get that at the farmers market. There may be some demonstrations, but not to that degree,” she said.

The kitchen at Barrels offered a daily lunch menu that typically included one soup, a sandwich or two and an entree. The popularity of the menu also prompted the market in February to begin offering Saturday brunch.

With the relaunch, there will be a larger menu and more prepared food offerings for people to take home. The kitchen will also have extended hours with plans to offer a cafe-type atmosphere where people can get a pastry and coffee in the morning, Shipman said. Making recipes available is also part of the plan.

“It will be a very small restaurant,” Shipman said. “You’ll be able to sit down and eat or get stuff to take back to work or back home.”

Shipman and Strode said they have received a lot of support from the community, as well as concern over the temporary closing, but they said they are confident the month-long break will provide the co-op with the time to relaunch successfully.

“What you’re getting will always be reflective of what’s in season and what we can do right in Maine,” Shipman said. “Not just in Maine, but especially right here, in the greater Waterville area.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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