WATERVILLE — Downtown local foods store Barrels Community Market, which closed for restructuring a month ago, won’t be reopening anytime soon, and directors aren’t sure if it will open again at all.

Members of the Waterville Food Cooperative, which operates Barrels at 74 Main St., were told by an emailed letter Wednesday morning that the market “won’t reopen as planned” and that the cooperative itself may dissolve.

David Shipman, executive director of the board of the cooperative, said later Wednesday that doesn’t necessarily mean the store will close permanently, but that its future is up to the cooperative’s 175 members. He said the board still hopes to reopen, even if it is in a different location or on a smaller scale.

At the beginning of August, co-op officials said the market would close for a month to restructure, and Colby College planned to help the market come up with a business plan.

Barrels started six years ago as a project of the downtown economic group Waterville Main Street. The intent was for the store to become self-sufficient. In 2013 the co-op was formed and took over the store, but it hasn’t been able to sustain itself financially.

“Having exhausted all known avenues for keeping Barrels Market open, the Board of Directors is sorry to announce that the Barrels Community Market physical storefront cannot reopen as planned,” said the letter to co-op members signed by the co-op’s board.

The letter asks members to attend a membership meeting next Wednesday “that will be pivotal.”

“We need your vote on some important decisions we as a cooperative have to make, including the question of whether to continue on as a cooperative,” the letter says.

They initially estimated a re-opening date of mid-September with changes to the store including more of an emphasis on prepared foods.

Before it closed, the store sold locally grown produce; bread from nearby bakeries; and crafts such as wooden cutting boards, hand-knit socks and hats and greeting cards designed by local artists. A small lunch menu offered some prepared foods, including vegetarian and gluten-free options, and a different soup each day.

Shipman said Wednesday that the board is preparing several proposals to present to the co-op’s members next Wednesday.

“People are aware there have been challenges,” he said. “The challenges are there and we’re going to see if we have a way to work through them.”

One of the main challenges of reopening has been coming up with a business plan that not only will help the store move forward, but also help it recover from “a certain amount of debt we have to clear up,” Shipman said.

He said the co-op is still working with Colby College on the plan. “They’ve been very helpful,” he said.

Ruth Jackson, vice president of communications for Colby, said the college has worked with Barrels to provide financial planning and guidance on developing a business plan.

“They’ve worked on it and we reached a point where Colby gave them what we could give them based upon the plan that they had and that was that,” she said. “If they continue to work on a plan, Colby will be happy to provide counsel in the way that we have, but really it’s their determination if they want to continue to go in that direction or not.”

Shipman said the roughly one-month time frame originally estimated to reopen the store hasn’t been enough to figure out financing and repayment schedules.

The options that will be presented to members Wednesday will include ways the store could continue, including the possibility of relocating or scaling back.

“One of the things, if you look at the history of other co-ops that have started recently, they all started on a smaller level and then got to the level where they had enough members that they could then operate a storefront,” Shipman said. “They did it through buying clubs and CSAs and various things like that and got enough of a solid background for it to make sense to have a storefront.”

Other downtown merchants Wednesday reacted with disappointment, but not surprise, to the news.

“They’re financially strapped. I know they had issues,” said Candace Savinelli, who owns the Holy Cannoli bakery next door to Barrels. “I kind of had a feeling things weren’t going well after a while. I started noticing less and less inventory in the store, and then when one of the girls quit who had been there for quite a while, you could see it happening.”

Ken Eisen, who is the landlord of the building that Barrels shares with Holy Cannoli and also a member of the co-op, said Wednesday he didn’t know whether the store would continue to operate at its current location.

“I care a great deal about Barrels, and I’m disappointed they may be closing,” he said. “I don’t know anything about their finances or where they might go from here.”

Co-op members said in August that they hoped the restructuring plan would include offering more prepared meals made with locally grown foods, as well as development of the longer-term sustainable financial plan.

The partnership with Colby College also looked promising, as it was announced around the same time the college decided to buy several downtown buildings for development.

“It’s definitely too bad,” Jackson said of the setbacks. “Barrels is an important part of downtown. We want to see them succeed, and we’re not the only ones. We know there are a lot of members of the community for whom it’s an important entity in downtown Waterville. I hope they’re able to make it work in some form or another.”

The membership meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, at the market, and the letter says that because of the short notice, minutes will be sent to members who can’t attend, as well as ballots on any votes.

“We’re very interested in the food. We want to continue the local food piece of it and the prepared food piece of it, and we need time to put together a way that we can do that,” Shipman said. “We have to figure all this out, and it’s just that one month wasn’t enough to do it.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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