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Sharing the Wealth

Side Dishes: Connecticut developer looks to City Market for inspiration

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City Market
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Burlington’s City Market/Onion River Co-op doesn’t just appeal to the broad array of local shoppers who spend $30 million a year at the downtown grocery. It’s also a model at least four other cities have sought to emulate.

The latest wannabe was highlighted in a July 27 New York Times article about a 32-story residential tower rising in what reporter Lynnley Browning described as “a prime but cheerless pocket within walking distance of Yale” in New Haven, Conn.

Developer Bruce Becker first tried to lure upscale purveyors Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to ground-floor space in his 500-unit building. But “we didn’t fit their suburban prototype,” Becker tells Seven Days. “They have a strong preference for suburban locations where they can apply the model they’ve used successfully elsewhere.”

So Becker, who owns a second home in South Pomfret, turned to City Market. “It’s seen as the standard everyone tries to follow,” he explains. “Co-op consultants we engaged said City Market is the best example of an urban food co-op.” His company is now the chief sponsor of a New Haven equivalent, Elm City Market.

What makes the Burlington store a model? City Market manager Clem Nilan attributes its rep to its hybrid conventional-organic product lines and its member ownership. Another attraction for Becker and City Market fans in other cities is that “we bring money into the community instead of shipping it out,” Nilan adds.

Despite its student population, New Haven lacks a downtown supermarket, let alone a co-op — another indication, in Becker’s view, of how “Vermont is so far ahead of Connecticut in developing a sustainable food economy.”

Elm City Market is scheduled to open early next year in a 24,000-square-foot space in Becker’s building. “New Haven and Burlington are both dominated by a university and teaching hospital, and they’re full of smart people who care about their health,” Becker says. “So we’re hoping Elm City Market will one day be as successful as City Market.”

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