Beloved for its charming landscapes and fresh lobster, the rural community of Deer Isle, Maine is now gaining attention in the cooperative world. When Verne and Sandra Seile, proprietors of Burnt Cove Market, V&S Variety and Pharmacy, and The Galley, decided to retire last year, they sold their businesses to their employees. With 62 new worker-owners, Island Employee Cooperative, Inc. (IEC) is now the twelfth largest worker cooperative in the nation.
In a small community of just more than 2,500, with a workforce of 1,300, the loss of 62 jobs would have been felt intimately. Where family-owned businesses are significant, communities face additional challenges. Only30 percent of family-owned businesses, like the Seile’s, survive to the next generation. When these businesses are closed or sold to outside investors, communities lose wealth. For example, an Institute for Local Self Reliance study analyzing thelocal multiplier effect in Maine, found that for every $100 spent at a big box retailer, $14 in local spending is generated compared to $45 when the money is spent at a locally-owned business. Additionally, communities sacrifice social benefits fostered by ownership of local business, such as good health and a politically engaged community. Hoping to keep wealth rooted in their home of over 40 years, the Seiles began working with the Maine- based Cooperative Development Institute(CDI) and the Independent Retailers Shared Services Cooperative to convert their businesses to a worker-owned cooperative.