NORTHAMPTON/FLORENCE, Mass. (WWLP) – The owner of Cooper’s Corner in Florence and State Street Fruit Store in Northampton is selling his business to an employee.

The announcement was made by a news release from the owner, Richard “Rich” Cooper. Both locations are being sold to a longtime employee Michael “Mike” Natale of Easthampton. Mike has worked in both places since 2006 and most recently as general manager.

“Mike is a clone of me. He sees what I see. He knows what customer service really means, and he understands the importance of community. Mike has a great way with the employees and customers. He is enthusiastic, dedicated and has long-term commitment,” said Cooper, who is known throughout the region not only as a competent businessman but also as a tireless community advocate, volunteer and supporter of countless nonprofits. Cooper will work part-time alongside Natale for a few months after the sale as Natale takes over full ownership.”

“Mike is the ideal buyer. This choice feels right to me,” Cooper added. “It meets the obligation I feel toward employees and to the community to keep the stores locally owned and locally committed, the way we’ve been from day one. I didn’t want to sell to a chain or the highest bidder or someone from outside the community.”

  • This shot of Cooper’s Corner was taken around 1965.
  • Rich Cooper stands outside Cooper’s Corner in Florence.

The Cooper family business was established in 1936 when Rich’s father, Russell Cooper, purchased Bridgman’s Dairy. Cooper’s Dairy located at 126 North Maple St. in Florence was a company that processed, bottled and delivered milk. The facility was then launched in 1950 at the 31 Main St. location and was changed to Cooper’s Corner nearly a decade later.

“When you run out, run in”

Displayed on the sign outside Cooper’s Corner

State Street Fruit Store on 51 State St. in Northampton was purchased in 1974 and was informally known as Charlie’s. Russell and his wife Evelyn ran both stores together until Evelyn became a nurse at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. The couple had three children, Rich, Ed, and Ron. Ed passed away in 1996 and Ron in 2004. Rich has been working there since 1977 when his father was getting ready to retire.

The two stores have 104 employees, most of who work part time and around 40 that work full time. Solar panels were recently installed at both locations. The State Street Fruit Store has a bigger deli, expansive patio, and a popular wine room.

“Don’t be afraid of change in this case because we’re not going to see a lot of changes, I mean Mike’s going to put his own touch on some merchandising, some new products, that sort of thing. But we’re still going to be community focused, customer focused,” said Cooper.

Cooper expects they will close on the sale of the two stores some time in October and then he plans to stick around for the next six months to help with the transition. Both stores will remain open in that time.