Customers of the Honest Weight Food Co-op will no longer have to dread getting back out onto Central Avenue.
On Wednesday, the cooperative supermarket is moving to a brand new building at 100 Watervliet Ave. with 150 parking spaces. Shoppers will no longer struggle for a parking spot and to squeeze out into Albany traffic, long the most dreaded part of shopping at the natural foods grocer.
“It’s a testament to how loyal our customers and members are to us that they were willing to navigate that dismal parking lot,” said Lily Bartels, a member of the team that manages the store.
That loyalty is about to be rewarded, and the market will double its retail space to 18,000 square feet. The expanded store means a salad bar and fresh fish can be added, and areas from the deli to the produce section are much larger. The number of checkout counters is doubled from five to 10.
The store offers produce, meat, and other products that come from hundreds of local farmers and producers.
“The money remains in the community and does not get siphoned off to corporate headquarters,” Bartels said, and local food is often fresher because it isn’t trucked hundreds of miles to get here.
The 8,700 members together own the store, and make up about half its customers.
“A big misconception about the cooperative is you have to be a member to shop here, and that’s not the case,” she said.
Nate Horwitz, membership coordinator, has worked for the co-op for more than 25 years in all three of its locations.
Honest Weight began in 1976 as a buying club of 20 people in the basement of Sharon and Gary Goldberg. The next year, it moved into its first storefront on Quail Street. In 1995, it moved to the Central Avenue location.
“When we first moved from Quail Street to Central Avenue, I thought we were really professional,” Horwitz said. At Quail Street, he said, the ceilings were so low he could touch them.
“We didn’t take credit cards there. We didn’t have scanning registers,” he said. “We had only one phone line.”
David Aube, grocery department manager, joined as a member in 1985 and became an employee 11 years later. He shopped at Quail Street and worked on Central Avenue.
“This is really a wonderful new store,” he said of the latest location. “It’s got all the amenities a 21st-century store should have.”
It also enables the store to expand its display space.
“You can see the products much better,” Aube said. “They really pop out on the shelves.”
The expansion has enabled the store to add some 25 new jobs for a total of about 120 workers, both full and part time. Earlier this week, a dozen people busily worked in the much larger, now state-of-the-art kitchen.
“We offer a really decent living wage and excellent benefits for our employees,” Bartels said. “We have a triple bottom line: people, planet, profit.”
The store is opening within a short distance of a Shop Rite supermarket that arrived last year. Hannaford recently finished a months-long renovation project at its nearby Central Avenue store, and Price Chopper is located farther up Central. Whole Foods will be coming to Colonie Center.
Honest Weight thinks it can handle all the competition.
“We are the organization that spearheaded the natural foods movement in the area,” Bartels said. “From the beginning, our business plan included competition. We think we have differentiating factors. Our big emphasis is on local, and none of our competitors will be able to compete with that.”
Bulk foods are one of the store’s biggest selling points, with more than 900 products for sale. They include nuts, spices, teas, grain, pasta, beans and rice.
“We have the largest bulk department in the Northeast and one of the largest in the country,” Bartels said.
The cooperative emphasizes education and community outreach. Posters display information on upcoming classes on “fantastic fermentations” and “sustainable home landscaping.”
An indoor cafe will provide seating for 40, with additional seating outdoors. The indoor tabletops are made of wood from an old Army depot in Rotterdam, and the legs are from the old Wagar Dairy Farm in Brunswick. They were built by Silver Fox Salvage in Albany. The lights were made from old bell jars by a Vermont company.
The store will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The store opens for business on Wednesday, with a grand opening celebration planned for Aug. 8.
Since it has moved every 18 years, where will it be in 2031?
“I think we’re going to keep this store and open up multiple other ones,” Horwitz said.
Bartels agreed that is a goal.
“What we’d like to do is have satellite stores in underserved areas,” she said.
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