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Harvest Co-op Markets, unable to compete with major organic grocers, is closing

Inside the Jamaica Plain Harvest Co-op store, one of two closing.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff/File 2017

Harvest Co-op Markets said Wednesday that it will shutter its two remaining stores, in Jamaica Plain and Cambridge, after a long struggle to keep up amid a dramatic increase in competition from major organic-food sellers.

In a letter to the organization’s more than 3,000 member-owners, the organization’s board of directors said it had no other option after a nearly 50-year run. The two stores will close within the next two weeks.

“Despite the tireless efforts of Harvest staff, the board, and member-owners to try to restore the co-op to good financial health, Harvest is approaching [financial] insolvency with no viable path forward,” the board said in its letter.

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Harvest launched in 1971, at a time when organic groceries were a niche business and consumers had to band together to purchase bulk amounts of natural foods. The organization’s health-conscious spirit caught on, but its business model didn’t hold up.

Now, organic food is everywhere — in dedicated stores such as Whole Foods and in specialized sections of nearly every other grocer. Harvest’s sales and membership numbers in recent years entered a decline that management said it could not reverse.

By the spring of 2017, the company said it was losing $30,000 a month — and it implored its members to shop more to save the organization. The board said Wednesday that despite another year of attempts to build a sustainable business, the situation had not improved.

“This changing marketplace has created a decline in sales for our co-op that has intensified over the last two years, and the trend continues,” the letter said. “We have put many cost controls into place, reducing purchasing and labor costs. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked. Sales continue to drop, and Harvest continues to lose significant money each month.”

The board said it had reached the decision to close in consultation with a major lender, the Cooperative Fund of New England, which loans money to cooperative businesses. A key consideration, Harvest said, was that it wanted to have enough money left to pay its employees for the hours they had worked. The organization said last year that it had 45 full-time and 25 part-time employees in the two stores.

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“We thank you for your loyalty and patronage,” the letter said. “We are proud of our legacy of providing jobs and keeping our local economy strong while providing unique and healthy food. We have accomplished and learned much through the years.”


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.