After more than two decades in the heart of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Coop la Maison Verte will close at the end of the month.
With debt piling up and the cost of running the store heavily outweighing revenue, members who attended Thursday evening's meeting voted overwhelmingly in favour of closing the co-op, located just east of Melrose Avenue on Sherbrooke Street West.
The vote was 41 for, seven against and five abstentions.
"This co-op means a lot to a lot of different people," said board member Sheena Swirlz. But nowadays there are a lot of competing franchises and businesses with deeper pockets and support, where the Coop la Maison Verte is run by a small team of co-ordinators and a board of directors.
"We've been operating under an old model for a really long time and we haven't done the work that needs to be done to kind of look at, analytically, the situation and make the changes required to become a more viable store," she said.
Several board members have quit in recent years, succumbing to the stress of managing a shop that was falling deeper and deeper into debt while struggling to stock its shelves with products customers want, Swirlz said.
Without that stock available, customers were heading elsewhere, she said.
22 years in the making
The co-op was established in 1998 by a group of seven NDG residents who wanted to defy consumer culture while breathing new life into the neighbourhood — boosting local trade and providing a community hub.
Over the years, it became just that. Members of the co-op paid $10 for a lifetime membership, getting 10 per cent off bulk foods, coffee and detergent.
The shelves are stocked with an array of local wares, crafts and beers as well as ecological products aimed at reducing waste.
Meanwhile, there was a coffee shop inside and a sitting area that doubled as a community space for regular meetings and events. Over the years, it has become a social hub and gathering place for neighbours, friends and groups.
The co-op has garnered more than 10,000 members and developed strong partnerships with local non-profit organizations, artists and businesses in the region that are equally dedicated to environmental and food issues.
In 2010, the co-op bought its building in an effort to keep the dream alive, but the building was riddled with problems and in need of expensive repairs. The board eventually sold it and began paying rent once again.
Despite the dedication of its members, staff and volunteers, Coop la Maison Verte has been unable to sustain itself and has accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Now, remaining board members are struggling to sort out how to pay that debt off and who exactly is on the hook for the bill.
Hoping for a solution
Ralph Olynyk first visited the co-op about 12 years ago on a whim, tried the coffee "and I haven't left since."
Beyond the coffee, he said he particularly enjoyed all the community events, activities and social interaction that goes on there as he was introduced to new ideas, initiatives and friends.
He attended the vote, hoping they would be able to find a new way to make the place viable once again.
But he didn't get his wish and, after years of keeping a stool warm at the coffee bar, he's going to have to look for another place to sip java and chat with passersby.
"There's no café around here that attracts me," he said. "In my neighbourhood, there's almost nothing."