Co-op renovation to begin soon

by Sara McGahan | 10/8/14 5:26pm

The Co-op Food Stores are taking preliminary steps in a $5.3 million renovation to the Hanover flagship store, and store representatives said they hope to break ground within the next week. The renovation, which is expected to finish by July 2015, will include expanding the store by 2,700 square feet, increasing energy efficiency and revamping the 51-year-old building.

The Co-op cannot begin the expansion until it completes a “land swap” with the College, general manager Terry Appleby said. The College will give up its “right of way” to land going through the building, he said, an arrangement dating back to a time when there was a radio tower on the fields behind the stove. In exchange, the Co-op will give Dartmouth nearby land along the Appalachian Trail.

The project will first expand the western edge of the store, Co-op spokesperson Allan Reetz said. This “bump-out” space will allow the store to remain open as renovation persists, since different departments can function in the expanded area while construction occurs for their permanent space.

Closing the Hanover store during renovation was not viable, Co-op Board of Directors president Margaret Drye said. As the cooperative’s “flagship” store, it would have been fiscally irresponsible to shut the store’s doors, she said, as the Lebanon Co-op would not have been able to maintain the customer volume if the Hanover store closed.

Unlike other Co-op locations, the company owns both the Hanover store’s building and the land it is on, making it the cooperative’s largest asset. In order to take care of the facility, certain upgrades are required.

Many heating, ventilating and air-conditioning units are currently or almost expired, and some of the first floor decking beams support loads that exceed their weight capacity. Additionally, some walls, ceilings and floors are worn and cracking from age, and windows are outdated.

Making these upgrades now, instead of waiting to renovate, will save the Co-op money, Reetz said.

The renovation will also help the store reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, according to a proposal guide. Changes will include adding doors onto their dairy cases, installing LED lights and updating their refrigeration system to become more energy efficient.

Additional changes will include new prepared foods departments, such as a hot food and sushi bar, more entrances and indoor café seating. The Hanover store’s shelves may also add some new food products.

In April, 88 percent of Co-op members supported the renovation, Drye said.

Those who voted against the project may have been concerned about the timing or expenses of the renovation, Drye said.

“Concerned About the Co-op,” a group of Co-op members displeased with the Co-op’s direction, has questioned whether the renovations align with the cooperative’s overall values and goals, citing concerns of corporatization.

Appleby noted, however, that constant growth was one of the cooperative’s founding principles.

Drye said that many Hanover Co-op employees are excited about the renovation and pleased that the store’s members supported the project.

Co-op employee John Manion said the renovations will open up a new clientele for the Co-op and keep existing members happy. He added that the changes will “liven up” the store.

“I’m happy to kick up the pace and change the Co-op for the better,” he said.

The Hanover Co-op’s most recent renovations occurred in 1973, 1985 and 1994, with the store remaining open during the last two.

The 1994 renovation brought 4,000 square feet of new retail space. Despite the renovations taking half the parking lot out of commission for their duration, sales jumped by 5 percent as customers came in to keep track of the store’s progress, Appleby said.

“While construction may reduce sales some, we think that a number of members will want to see the renovations on a weekly basis,” Appleby said.

Town of Hanover senior planner Vicki Smith ’78, who has been a Co-op member since she attended the College, said that the town has had a limited role in the renovation process. She noted that town inspectors and the fire department will inspect the building.

Local architect Chris Kennedy, a member of the 11-person Sustainable Hanover committee, said that the Co-op has had a “long track record” of environmental awareness. Co-op sustainability coordinator Amanda Charland also sits on the committee.

The Co-op’s sustainability efforts follow a recent push to make Hanover more eco-friendly. The town was recently named New Hampshire’s first “Green Power Community” by the Environmental Protection Agency and is launching a solar energy project called “Solarize Hanover” later this month.

Nick Vernice contributed reporting.