Schenectady food co-op looking at new site downtown

Organizers of a food co-op in Schenectady are enthusiastic about an alternative site downtown where a grocery store could be built after plans fell through for the initial location.

Leaders of the Electric City Food Co-op are focusing now on 141 Erie Boulevard, where a vacant commercial building will be demolished soon by the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority to clear the parcel for new development.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen recently showed the county-owned property and other options to members of the co-op’s board of directors.

Two co-op board members, Adine Viscusi and Bashir Chedrawee, like the Erie Boulevard address because it would provide plenty of parking for the 10,000-square-foot to 12,000-square-foot store, is easily accessible and in an area that has seen considerable growth in recent years with new apartments, offices and businesses.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Viscusi, owner of Casa Visco, a spaghetti sauce bottler in Rotterdam.

“Ray said he would follow up with the county [June 28],” she added. “We believe that did transpire. We haven’t heard anything back yet. We’re waiting to hear back any moment to see if that’s going to be given the green light by Metroplex.”

Gillen said the concept was still under review. No decisions have been made.

The building was formerly occupied by Eastern Office Supply and Omnis Computers and Supplies.

It’s in between a Sunoco gas station and Schenectady Hardware and Electric, and is one of 11 abandoned buildings the Metroplex is taking down this summer.

Schenectady County has committed $3 million toward building a co-op downtown, and the city of Schenectady has pledged $1 million, Viscusi said. The estimated cost of the store is nearly $6 million.

“We’re trying not to jump the gun before we have site control,” she said, “which is what happened with the OrthoNY building.”

The co-op had previously considered leasing a portion of the vacant medical office building at 530 Liberty St., but that plan came to a halt when the Schenectady City School District announced in the spring it wanted to buy the property for a new Family and Community Engagement Operation Center.

School district voters approved the $2.9 million purchase in May.

Constructing a new building rather than retrofitting the former office building will actually be less expensive because of the interior demolition and other renovations that would have been needed, Chedrawee said.

Chedrawee, owner of Simone’s Kitchen, a popular downtown restaurant, said there has been a burst of energy over the past few months to open a co-op because of the growing demand for fresh food in an area of the city without a full-service grocery store.

A decision by the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany to not partner with the Schenectady co-op hasn’t stopped the momentum. There are now 700 members of the group, a big jump since the one-time member’s fee was lowered from $200 to $25.

“We now have all the key players required to make this happen,” he said. “We feel that now more than ever we know that this is going to come to fruition.”


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