Iconic wholefoods closes after 100k loss

Decades of social enterprise ends as Geelong Wholefoods'' Mercer Street store closes.

By Luke Voogt

Decades-old community enterprise Geelong Wholefoods has closed after losing more than $100,000 since moving to Mercer Street last year.

Hundreds of former customers have expressed their disappointment on the store’s Facebook page.

“Where will I go now for great food, pantry and vitamins?” Lyndall Wishart asked.

“So sorry to see you have closed, but wish you well.”

“This is tragic for Geelong,” Caz Salkeld commented.

About 10 employees lost their jobs in the closure, said Diversitat chief executive officer Michael Martinez.

“We haven’t been able to redeploy anybody, unfortunately,” he said.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we employed 17 people (over 15 years) and all of those people were paid award wages.”

Diversitat, a not-for-profit multicultural services provider, took over Wholefoods in the early 2000s. The store previously operated as a voluntary community cooperative.

Former customers questioned Diversitat’s operation of the store and the relocation decision.

But Mr Martinez said the store would likely have closed 15 years ago if his organisation had not taken over.

“We took it over when it was a co-op and it was making massive losses. We were approached by them to keep it open.

“The volunteering had collapsed. They were turning over a few hundred dollars a day.”

Diversitat purchased the store’s new premises, at 70-72 Mercer Street, for $753,500 in 2017.

“The valuation now is a lot more than that – more than double,” Mr Martinez said.

The store doubled its turnover at the new location but increased costs led to a loss of “more than $100,000”, he said.

The store had made $30,000 in two days of closing-down fire sales so far, which Mr Martinez said would soften the loss.

Customers queued for up to 90 minutes during the sales last week, he said.

But customers, members of the original Geelong Wholefoods co-op and disgruntled former employees have formed a group objecting to the closure.

“It feels so frustrating to have seen the place been run into the ground,” said Geelong West group member Pati Seiler.

When the co-op opened in the 1970s residents volunteered a few hours a week for a membership that allowed purchases at the store, she said.

“It has deep roots in the region and is very meaningful to customers past and present.”

Ms Seiler said Geelong Wholefoods lost many costumers between the closure of its Baylie Street store around Christmas 2016 and its reopening at Mercer Street in mid-2017.

“I think it was very detrimental.“

Diversitat promoted the opening on social media but failed to reach some of its customer base who lived “offline,” she said.

“There are people saying now they didn’t even know it was open.”

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