Island Employee Cooperative board standing in front of one of the stores they bought on June 11, 2014, becoming Maine's largest worker-owned cooperative.
Island Employee Cooperative Board of Directors, in front of one of the stores they bought on June 11, 2014, becoming Maine’s largest worker-owned cooperative. Gloria LaBrecque, Cooperative Fund of New England loan outreach officer for Maine, is sitting in front, far right.

For Immediate Release



Rob Brown, Director, Cooperative Development Institute’s Business Ownership Solutions program, 207-233-2987,

Island Community in Maine Creates Worker-Owned Cooperative to Retain Local Businesses and Jobs

Deer Isle and Stonington, ME, June 17, 2014–Employees of three rural Maine businesses–Burnt Cove Market, V&S Variety and Pharmacy, and The Galley–are now the owners. All of them.

By forming the Island Employee Cooperative, Inc. (IEC), the largest worker cooperative in Maine and one of the larger worker co-ops in the United States, the employees were able to purchase the businesses from retiring owners Vern and Sandra Seile. Combined, the three businesses are one of the island’s largest employers and provide the community with a full array of groceries, hardware, prescription drugs, pharmacy items, craft supplies, and other goods and services.

The employees were concerned when word first circulated that the Seile’s were thinking about selling the stores and retiring. Potential buyers who were not part of the community would doubtfully have maintained the same level of jobs and services, and other employment options on the island are limited.

As a result, last summer, the Seile’s and the employees began meeting with the Independent Retailers Shared Services Cooperative (IRSSC), a purchasing cooperative of independent grocers in New England, and the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI), a nonprofit group that provides technical assistance to all types of cooperative businesses. These conversations explored the idea of transferring ownership of the companies over to the workers.

All agreed this was a win-win option. The employees began to work with IRSSC, CDI, Specialized Accounting Services and other advisors for nearly a year to create the worker cooperative, secure financing, purchase the stores, and ensure their livelihood while keeping ownership and profits local.

Vern Seile said he and his wife, Sandra, “were pleased that we were able to help the employees purchase the stores that Sandra and I have built over the last 43 years. It’s our way of saying thank you to them and our customers for their support.”

Now that they own their jobs, IEC president Alan White said, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Many of us have worked in these stores for decades and never imagined this possibility. We know we have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do to be successful, but success means we will really achieve the American dream – economic security and building wealth through ownership, both for our families and our community.”

In a worker co-op, each worker-owner has one (and only one) share in the corporation and one vote in its governance. Co-ops typically get their start when workers band together to launch a new business. Conversions from conventional corporations are much less common, especially ones of the size and scope of the IEC.

“The IRSSC serves smaller, independent grocers and retailers around New England,” says Mark Sprackland, IRSSC Executive Director, “and we hope that this is only the first of many locally-owned and operated co-ops that we can help form in communities focused on sustainable growth.”

People across the country have been trying to figure out the best way to assist business owners who want to consider conversion to employee ownership, either as a growth strategy or as a retirement strategy,” said Rob Brown, Director of CDI’s Business Ownership Solutions program. “In many ways this deal provides the model, and we look forward to working with the IEC into the future to ensure their success.”

Maine-based CEI and the Cooperative Fund of New England, two Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs), organized the financing to buy the businesses. Without these funds, the workers’ dreams of buying the stores and keeping them local would have remained just that.

“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.

“CFNE has worked with cooperatives since 1975 and was able to contribute expertise to the lending process. “We’re proud to commit to this very important worker-cooperative conversion, which preserves local ownership of these businesses and retains 62 essential jobs in the communities,” said Gloria LaBrecque, Northeast Loan and Outreach Officer with CFNE. “We congratulate the worker-owners of the IEC on this milestone achievement.”

Now that the employees own the businesses, they are excited to have a say in how they are run and a share in the profits they generate. As Mr. Seile said, “Now it’s their turn build on and improve what we have done.”

Independent Retailers Shared Services Cooperative
Contact: Mark Sprackland, Executive Director, 603-642-6911 office, 603-706-0868 cell

Cooperative Development Institute
We make democratic ownership work for everyone.
Contact: Rob Brown, Program Director, Business Ownership Solutions,, 207-233-2987, Northport ME

Promoting sustainable economic growth in rural communities since 1977.
Contact: Liz Rogers, SVP, Marketing & Communications 207-632-7693, Portland, ME

Cooperative Fund of New England
A socially responsible lending organization and investment option, supporting cooperatives since 1975.
Contact: Gloria J. LaBrecque, Northeast Loan and Outreach Officer 207-272-2296, Portland, ME

Island Community in Maine Creates Worker-Owned Cooperative to Retain Local Businesses and Jobs
Tagged on: