Schenectady County

Co-op market creates niche with prices, loyal customers

The Niskayuna Consumers Co-op was bustling with activity Saturday as it celebrated its 67th annivers

The Niskayuna Consumers Co-op was bustling with activity Saturday as it celebrated its 67th anniversary.

The co-op, which has approximately 15,000 shareholders, celebrates its birthday in November every year, even though it was founded in March of 1943.

General Manager Donald Bisgrove said the store’s anniversary, which includes a week of sales, serves as a good reminder to the community that the co-op not only still exists, but is thriving despite its larger competitors.

“We do four times the national average in sales per square foot. Nationally it’s $9.06, we do over $36 per square foot,” Bisgrove said.

The Niskayuna Consumers’ Cooperative Inc. was originally founded because of gasoline rationing during World War II. Its members didn’t want to drive to Union Street to buy groceries. They still don’t, although now some of them drive farther to shop at the co-op, located at 2227 Nott St., just off Balltown Road.

“The quality of the food is superior,” said Schenectady resident Nancy Konczeski. “Their specials are worth making the trip. This week we got porterhouse steaks for dinner that were delicious at a price that couldn’t be matched anywhere else.”

Membership is a one-time fee of $5 for a “share” in the co-op. Bisgrove said the cost of the shares never increases and if someone wants to sell it back, they get the five dollars back.

Anyone can shop at the co-op but members have access to more sales, like 99-cent-per-pound chicken breast last week.

“Basically this week we gave away the story. This chicken we’ve been putting out is at least 20 cents below cost, before you even put labor into it. We’ve sold 12,000 pounds of chicken breast since Monday. Do you know how many chickens that would be? That would be enough to fill this whole building with flapping chickens,” Bisgrove said.

Last year the co-op distributed $160,000 of its “profits” back to members in the form of deeply discounted groceries.

The 10,000-square-foot grocery store has a very different atmosphere from some huge impersonal supermarkets. It features small aisles that are thickly packed with brand name foods. Unlike some supermarket chains that have experimented with automated check-out counters, the co-op, in Bisgrove’s words, is “dripping” with employees: 30 full time and 35 part time, all of them poised to help customers in their forest green, short sleeved shirts.

“Because nobody owns this store our employees and members kind of feel like they all own it,” Bisgrove said.

Bisgrove said early November is a good time to celebrate the anniversary because it comes right before Thanksgiving. It also happens to coincide with the anniversary of when Bisgrove was hired as general manager, 35 years ago. It started as a “meet the new manager” event and proved so popular the board of directors kept doing it every year.

Co-op board members were all over the store Saturday, greeting customers, helping to bag groceries and handing out food samples.

Niskayuna resident Cathe Casey is serving her second stint on the board and has served as its treasurer, which required she sign the paychecks for employees. For a one-time $5 membership fee, Casey said she’s been given the experience and opportunity of making business decisions.

“Right now we’re thinking about expanding the store, so it’s quite interesting, deciding how to use the limited amount of space that we have to put the most product here,” she said.

Casey said she’s been a member of the Co-op for about 25 years. She realized how strong the sense of community is among members and employees years ago when her sister took her daughter to the store.

“When of the clerks came up to my sister and said ‘that’s not your child,’ …every since then, I’ve felt very good about being here,” she said.

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