Tom’s Natural Foods store in Clinton will have a new home and could also have a new business structure.
About 65 people crammed into the College Street store last Tuesday evening to hear a proposal to turn the privately owned business into a cooperative. Two of the three business partners who purchased the store almost two years ago have left the business.
Remaining owner Andrew Sblendorio and Frank Cetera, Small Business advisor from Onondaga County, stunned the crowd at the beginning by saying the store will lose its lease as of June 1. “After nearly 50 years at 16 College St. we have lost this space,’’ Sblendorio said.
Sblendorio said when Tom’s Natural Foods future became uncertain earlier this year, owners of the space looked for other tenants. Another business will move into the building as of June 1.
Sblendorio outlined how he, Jason Townsend and Nancy Morello bought the business in spring 2020 from Tom and Bonnie Bell. Tom Bell opened the store at age 19 on College Street and ran it for 48 years until his retirement.
The three new owners re-opened in June 2020. Townsend left the business in November 2021 and Morello said in January she would not continue.
Sblendorio said that left him alone to figure out what’s next for the store, and facing a five-year lease agreement to sign in May. “I contemplated how to go ahead,’’ he said.
His options seemed to be to find a buyer or close at the end of May. While the site has worked for almost 50 years, Sblendorio said it has significant limitations to growth.
Parking is also a problem, the store has just the one entrance and is not handicapped accessible. Sblendorio said his dad has not been able to make it up the steps to see his son’s business.
As the word spread that Tom’s might close, Cetera and business advisor Neil Miller contacted Sblendorio to discuss another option, that of a community co-op.
Under a co-op form of ownership, people buy shares at a set price and become owners. Cetera explained the business is run under democratic control of one person, one vote on decision making for the entity.
“It’s an enterprise owned by its consumers,’’ he said, “oriented more toward service over profit.’’
Under the co-op form proposed, the members would be owners, but not operators. A general manager would run the store along with other…