May 18, 2018

A Mainer shows how to pass on a business

Popular Resistance - Two months ago, Rock City Coffee, a cafe and coffee roastery [in Rockland, ME], became a worker-owned cooperative, with employees buying the business from its previous owner and founder, Susanne Ward.

For [Susanne] Ward, selling the business to her employees was a reward to people who worked for her and a way to ensure that what she and her husband began 26 years ago would live on true to character.

For the employees, the opportunity allowed them a path to business ownership and to keep Rock City as the place where they love to work.

“I hated the idea of somebody else coming in and trying to change everything. I feel like because it’s [an employee] cooperative, it will always be Rock City,” said Kevin Malmstrom, who has worked at Rock City for 14 years and is now one of the 17 employee-owners.

Until closing day on the loan the cooperative took out to purchase Rock City, each of the 30 employees had the opportunity to join the cooperative and become part owners of the business.

Employee-owned cooperatives are on the rise across business sectors, according to Rob Brown, director of business ownership solutions at the Cooperative Development Institute. This is especially true in Maine, Brown said, largely due to the state’s aging population, with business owners finding themselves at retirement age but not wanting to endure the traditional sale process.

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