Don Bisgrove scurried through the bakery and over to the foot of the coffee, tea and granola aisle inside the Niskayuna Co-op.
He does this a few times a day now, stopping momentarily to look out at the shelves and down at the warm brown wood that replaced the old, ugly linoleum.
“You always felt cramped in these aisles, and now look,” he said, delighted. “They’re just the same, but they look twice as wide. It’s all an illusion.”
The small supermarket at 2227 Nott St. has been the same size for the entire 37 years Bisgrove, now general manager, has worked there.
There’s a growing base of customers and a growing demand for product, but the co-op is landlocked, so whenever Bisgrove upgrades the store, he does so delicately and with an eye for changes that will create more space — or at the very least, the appearance of it.
Today, he and a handful of local officials, including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, state Sen. Hugh Farley and Assemblyman James Tedisco, will celebrate the newly renovated store with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. Local vendors will have samples for the public until 2 p.m., and on Saturday, the co-op will host a much larger sampling event with Buckley Beef, Saratoga Peanut Butter Co., Smart Chicken and other local vendors from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
With more grocers moving into town, the 69-year-old cooperative is re-branding itself as “modern, but with a farm-style feel” that the other stores don’t offer.
“You wouldn’t have known it, but nine years ago, we re-did the entire store,” said Bisgrove. “Everything — every piece of equipment, ceilings, floors, lights. It took us a whole year. This work was so much easier.”
The work this time included nearly $500,000 in upgrades designed by Lacey-Convertino Architects of Albany. The 2003 renovation cost twice as much.
It took about two months to install new floors, sleek signs, track lighting, shorter checkout counters, a new roof and a revamped produce section. Emco Construction of Guilderland did the work at night so customers could shop during the day.
Sections of the store are now clearly marked with chrome signs that read “deli” or “produce” in an airy black font, offering a modern touch to the rustic, farmers market-style wooden shelves lined with produce.
“After nine years, things get a little tired,” said Bisgrove, “so we went to work and picked a design, picked a theme that we wanted for the store that is kind of a blend of a more earthy, natural look that also feels upscale.”
New furnaces and several inches of insulation were put in throughout the building, he said, to make it more energy-efficient.
It wasn’t long ago that Bisgrove and co-op board members were preoccupied with trying to expand. They tried to lease the land across Nott Street to be used as an employee parking lot so the store could expand into the side parking lot. Bisgrove envisioned a new deli, second-floor office space and meeting rooms.
“Everything kind of fell apart because we couldn’t get the lot, we couldn’t get this and that, and then just around the time we were dreaming up all these lofty plans, ShopRite announced they were coming in,” he said.
The board scaled back its plans and decided to work with what it had. And it’s working out pretty well so far.
In the past year, the co-op has brought in a bevy of local farm products in an effort to tip the community scale away from chain store offerings and toward local options.
New vendors from around the Capital Region include Buckley Beef, Slack Hollow Farm, Pucker’s Pickles, Stanton’s Feura Farm and Argyle Cheese Farmer. Two more will debut this weekend at the store’s sampling events: Honey Bee Farms of Cobleskill will be sampling its goat cheese, and Hickory Hill Smokehouse in Delanson will be handing out its smoked cheese.
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