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Green Fields, McCusker’s markets have new leader

GREENFIELD — A former Wal-Mart employee will head up operations at Green Fields and McCusker’s markets, beginning Sept. 20.

The owners of the two stores, Franklin Community Cooperative, recently hired John Williams, 40, of Colrain as its new general manager — and co-op board Chairman David Paysnick said hiring him wasn’t something any board member would have believed they’d consider, because Williams had worked at Wal-Mart for 14 years and the board wasn’t sure his philosophies would match the cooperative’s.

However, “As John Williams moved along in the interview process, we learned that he not only had tremendous grocery management expertise, but he had a deep commitment to cooperative values and to our community,” said Paysnick.

Williams will be managing both of the cooperative’s stores, Green Fields Market on Main Street and McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls. The local cooperative does $8.6 million in annual sales and has a staff of 78 between the two stores, which are cooperatively owned by more than 2,300 members.

Williams was born in Westfield and raised in the Pioneer Valley, including Sunderland, and attended Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. He said he plans to live in Colrain, where he will raise his four children.

“I was ready to step out of the corporate world and into a job that would give me the freedom to work more closely with members, customers, farmers and other vendors to create a strong local food economy,” said Williams. “Franklin Community Cooperative is just the right place for me.”

Paysnick said some staff and some members of the local cooperative were skeptical about someone coming from Wal-Mart being a good match for FCC.

The giant retail chain has become somewhat of a hot-button issue for Greenfield residents over the years, as battles over “big box” stores have divided the community with strong feelings on both sides.

“Every-one who has met him is impressed by the compassion he has for his current employees, by his communication skills and by his vision of a world with food cooperatives that truly serve their communities,” said Paysnick.

Julia Ellingboe, David Russell and Rob Levengood served as co-interim general managers to keep things going in the two stores after the former general manager Dwight Gaddis resigned unexpectedly a year ago.

Longtime General Manager Patti Waters stepped down from the position in March 2013, just six months before Gaddis resigned. Green Fields Market had also been looking to expand. The store occupies a 5,100-square-foot space in its 11,000-square-foot building.

Last fall, the cooperative started looking for a larger building, but Paysnick said that search has been put on hold until Williams settles in and the board has had a chance to work with him to develop a more comprehensive and long-term plan for expansion.

In May 1986, the much smaller Montague Food Co-op, which was located in Turners Falls, became Franklin Community Cooperative and in 1987, it moved to Chapman Street in Greenfield, where it stayed until 1993, when it bought the former J.C. Penney building, where it is today.

The building was renovated and in November 1993, FCC moved in.

In 2007, when Michael McCusker decided to sell his health food market, the cooperative bought it.

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