Renderings of the project

ITHACA, N.Y. — It might be one small grocery store opening, but GreenStar Co-Operative Marketing Manager Joe Romano hopes their new Collegetown store will leave a big impression.

“First of all, it’s a great opportunity to expose students to the co-op business model. Secondly, a lot of people come from a lot of different places to Ithaca, and we’re a little concerned that they would take back the American model of shopping at a large store, with a car, outside of town, and they’d take that back to their home towns. We’re hoping to export a little bit of our world view, which is smaller business, walkable shopping areas, small farm [suppliers], it’s a fit with our values.”

The grocery store co-operative plans to open their new Collegetown branch at 307 College Avenue on August 17th, with a grand opening celebration to follow in September. The new store, located on the first floor of the mixed-use Collegetown Crossing project, will be about 3,200 square feet in size, smaller than their primary location on Ithaca’s West End (5,700 square feet), but larger than the GreenStar Oasis location in downtown Ithaca (2,500 square feet). Tentative plans call for the premises to be open from 7 AM – 11 PM, seven days a week.

Image courtesy of GreenStar

GreenStar Fills A 30-year Gap

Known for its restaurants, bars and Fontana’s shoe store, Collegetown hasn’t has a full-service grocer since Egan’s IGA closed in the mid 1980s.  As a result, Collegetown is something of a food desert for students with modest means. The choice has been eating out (and watching as your wallet shrank and waistline expanded), relying on TCAT to help you shuffle groceries from the nearest store 1.5 miles away, or bringing/borrowing a car, which opens up other issues like parking and traffic.

A grocery in Collegetown not only serves students on a budget and without a car, but also nearby permanent residents who would prefer to walk or bike a couple of blocks to pick up peanut butter and milk, instead of getting in their car.

According to Romano, GreenStar has been looking at placing a store in Collegetown for years. “We’ve had a long relationship with the Lowers, we looked at this location many years ago actually. It wasn’t a really good fit for us then, the neighborhood was different, the size [of the space], the accessibility was different. Josh approached us and said, ‘we could retool this site to meet your needs better’, and that became attractive to us, it was a pretty natural fit to be in that space.

Also, it is a market that we haven’t been as successful at capturing, and we’re hoping to get right in the faces of students. We’re a great neighbor to the colleges, and I think going forward there will be a lot of interaction between us and campus.”

The co-operative worked with member and architect Pam Wooster to create the interior design of the new grocery. The store will not only carry a full line of produce, deli and personal care items, GreenStar is also planning a sizable prepared foods section with a café area for customers to heat and eat their newly-purchased meals.

With the space constraints of the Collegetown location, some foods, like baked goods or deli items, will be prepared at Greenstar’s Central Kitchen and shipped over to the Collegetown store daily. So they won’t be slicing turkey breast on-site, but they’ll have sliced turkey breast available for those who want it.

Image courtesy of GreenStar

Romano explained that GreenStar is trying hard to meet the wide needs of students who would be likely to shop at the store.

“We’re trying to do a product mix, and have a lot of prepared foods available that they can purchase quickly, we know students often don’t have much time so we want to meet their needs. There are also students that have apartments and cook, so we want to be a grocery store where you can shop for produce, protein, you can do all your shopping in our store. We’re trying to accommodate both of those kinds of shoppers.

There’s a large community around that location that I think might be happy to have a small market they can shop at and quickly pick up something for dinner, so we’re trying to be the place where you can go for a quick prepared meal, and a place where you can shop for your own meals. I think for some students we’d be the perfect bridge between the two, students starting with prepared meals and seeing that they could prepare food for themselves pretty easily.”

A store manager has already been hired, and full-time and part-time positions are being advertised on GreenStar’s webpage starting this week. The new store is expected to have about 14 employees. The co-op is a living wage employer.

With this third branch, GreenStar hopes to not only provide an alternative shopping experience for under-served students and East Hill residents, but to become more efficient with its centralized food production, and help fund efforts like its new solar farm in West Danby. Romano says it’s about adapting to the evolving needs of Ithacans, and creating a successful, sustainable business model to share with the community.

“We’ve been adapting to the change and growth in Ithaca for years now, we’ve been adapting our business model to centralized production center, and we’re looking at the idea of satellite stores, we may even go further out into other areas if we’re successful here. We’re looking at a model where we can reach out to neighboring communities with time, but we’re taking the expansion slowly and carefully for now. The food business is changing rapidly.”

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.