What Happened After 17 Employees Took Over A Beloved Maine Business

By Lauren Abbate
Bangor Daily News, Maine

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Two months ago, Rock City Coffee, a cafe and coffee roastery, became a worker-owned cooperative, with employees buying the business from its previous owner and founder, Susanne Ward.

ROCKLAND, Maine

For the last two months, patrons of Rock City Coffee might not have noticed any changes when they stopped at the busy downtown cafe for their regular order.

That’s exactly what the the new owners — the people behind the counter — want.

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

For 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.

The transition from single-person ownership to an employee-owned cooperative has been in the works for about three years.

On March 9, the company was sold to 17 of the 30 employees, forming the new Rock City Employee Cooperative.
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.

Rock City is now governed by an five-person cooperative board that was elected by coop members, though day-to-day management remains largely the same. However management now reports to the board, rather than a single “boss.”

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