The long-running dream of a grocery store in downtown Schenectady takes a step closer to reality Monday, with the public launch of the Electric City Food Co-op’s new virtual marketplace.
The online platform allows consumers to order food and goods from local growers and producers in a contactless setting. It is intended as a way to bring together a curated selection of products from across a geographically sprawling area.
Shoppers might find some of the items at the Schenectady Greenmarket or at certain retailers on any given week, but with the online platform, they can reserve what they want.
Organizers hope that it also will boost the profile of the Electric City Food Co-op, build its membership, and bring it closer to the day when it can finally open the doors to an actual retail location.
“That remains our ultimate goal, a brick-and-mortar store,” said Adine Viscusi, an ECFC board member.
The idea for the virtual market was born in the depths of the pandemic a year ago, when the retail industry was turned on its head. With the boom in online shopping and all the online technology connecting producers and consumers, the co-op looked at how it could be part of the connection locally.
Some of the members were opposed to the idea, worried it might dilute the effort to open a physical store, Viscusi said.
Others felt that the entire model of Main Street retail would not solidify into a post-pandemic reality for perhaps years, and it would be hard to plan an ECFC retail store until that happened. In the meantime, the online store would maintain the ECFC profile in the community and hopefully gain it some new members along the way.
Ultimately, the idea drew 95% member support in a poll, board President Matt Robbins said.
Organizers say ECFC needs about 1,000 member-owners before it can consider opening a storefront; it had 423 as of Wednesday.
“We definitely hope it builds membership,” said Viscusi, who was a member of the search committees looking for a store site and then for an e-commerce platform.
They reviewed a variety of tech options but decided to go with Local Food Marketplace for its simplicity but also because it was already in use in the Capital Region, at Capital Roots, the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market and the Schenectady Greenmarket.
The Greenmarket bought in to the platform in the spring of 2020, when the marketplace was shut down due to the pandemic, board chair Haley Viccaro said. But the Greenmarket was able to reopen outdoors fairly soon after the shutdown, and never really got going with the online platform.
ECFC assumed the remainder of the Greenmarket’s contract with Local Food Marketplace, hired a part-time employee to coordinate marketing through the platform, and for the last six weeks has been testing it with small groups of shoppers within the co-op community.
Non-members will be able to access the site starting Monday.
Viscusi explained the operation:
- Producers commit to providing a set quantity of goods, such as 20 loaves of sourdough bread or 10 quarts of yogurt.
- From 9 a.m. Mondays through noon Thursdays, buyers make their selection and the available inventory is reduced on the website in real time. As of Wednesday evening, for example, Squash Villa Farm in Schaghticoke had five orders of duck eggs available but just two orders of goose eggs. By Thursday evening there were none left.
- Orders are then transmitted to the producers, who deliver them to the Schenectady Greenmarket on Sunday.
- ECFC members pick the items up, bring them to Schenectady Trading Company on Union Street, and pack them into individual orders.
- Customers pick up their orders from 3-6 p.m. Monday at the Trading Company.
“It enhances what the Schenectady Greenmarket is doing,” Viscusi said. “We have very aligned mission statements.”
Viccaro said the Greenmarket and the Co-op have been looking for years to collaborate, and this is an important step in the process.
It’s not an either/or proposition, Viscusi added. There’s demand for both the Greenmarket and the Co-op.
“I love a greenmarket — if I’m in town I go to two a weekend,” she said.
At the point of pickup, the ECFC’s new online market provides a bit of the meeting place atmosphere the organizers intend the store to be, eventually.
“You can always kind of feel that sense of community there,” Viscusi said of the Schenectady Trading Company and the ECFC’s trial runs there.
The New York Farm Bureau, Hill & Markes and MVP Health Care are early sponsors of ECFC’s new virtual marketplace. Top-selling vendors so far have been Bornt Family Farms, fin – your fishmonger, Lovin’ Mama Farm, The Peanut Principle and Slate Valley Farms.
More information: The Electric City Food Co-op (ECFC) new online marketplace.