Hamilton’s only food co-op closes, goes into bankruptcy

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Published August 30, 2021 at 11:55 pm

The Mustard Seed Co-operative Grocery Store had operated in Hamilton since 2013.

The Mustard Seed Co-operative Grocery, which was Hamilton’s lone co-op grocery store, is shutting its doors after years of falling sales.

On Monday (Aug. 30), the store’s board informed its membership that the store, whose debts surpass its assets by more than $300,000, has been assigned into bankruptcy, with BDO Canada as the trustee. The staff have  been let go.

The store had 761 founding members, who initially paid $100 for a lifetime membership, when it launched in 2013. But there had been repeated calls for cash to keep the operation going.

The letter to members that was posted to a Reddit group stated that a cash call was held on July 26 with the intention of raising at $150,000 in order to repay suppliers and buy time to make improvements to the business. However, only $26,700 was raised, of which only $14,600 was irrevocable. The rest will be returned to the members.

Two groups expressed interest in buying the grocery store and café located at 460 York Blvd. in central Hamilton, but neither made a formal offer. It’s possible the store could be bought out of bankruptcy.

“On declaration of bankruptcy the volunteer board had to resign,” the letter to members read. “Our last act as a Board was to write a thank you letter to the staff. All the staff have lost their jobs. This is an unfortunate impact of the bankruptcy. We are hopeful that if interested member groups do make a timely and reasonable offer that the Trustee accepts, the staff be re-hired and paid a living wage consistent with the Mustard Seed’s values.”

Ward 3 City Councillor Nrinder Nann said the co-op grocery store made Hamilton “a better place.”

A CBC Hamilton report in June 2019 said the Mustard Seed Co-Op’s sales declined in 2018. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic further affected grocery stores. Many consumers have avoided in-person shopping by buying grocies through delivery apps such as Instacart. Those are typically linked with big grocery chains.

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