Island Employee Cooperative

Collaborative Financing for Small Business Ownership

In March 2013, after 40 years in business, the owners of Burnt Cove Market, V&S Variety, and The Galley, all based on Deer Isle, decided to sell the stores and keep them locally owned. When a viable buyer didn’t materialize, the owners, along with their employees, got creative, looking to CEI and Cooperative Fund of New England, both Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs), to finance the innovative idea of a worker-owned cooperative for all three businesses.

Employee owners outside one of their three cooperatively owned businesses.

Employee owners outside one of their three cooperatively-owned businesses with Gloria LaBrecque (front, right), Northeast Loan and Outreach Officer, Cooperative Fund of New England. Photo courtesy of Cooperative Fund of New England

“Many of us have worked in these stores for decades and never imagined we could own them. Having a local funder like CEI, which could help us navigate the process as well as provide technical assistance, was crucial to the success of this transaction and in keeping our local community vibrant.”

— ALAN WHITE, Worker-Owner and Board Chair of IEC

Over the course of a year, with assistance from the Cooperative Development Institute and the Independent Retailers Shared Services Cooperative, the former employees created the cooperative and secured financing to purchase the stores. Island Employee Cooperative (IEC) is now Maine’s largest worker cooperative and one of the larger worker co-ops in the United States.

“This financial transaction represents the best kind of collaboration to build wealth in Maine’s rural communities,” said CEI Loan and Investment Officer Cole Palmer. “CEI was tremendously excited to help the IEC realize its goal to purchase these three businesses.”