Sonoma County’s Oliver’s Markets is giving the term “locally owned” a new twist.

The privately held company, with four supermarkets spread from Cotati to Windsor, has set up an employee stock ownership plan that will enable most of its 1,000-plus workers to jointly buy 43 percent of the company over the next decade or so.

Owner Steve Maass said he set up the plan in order to keep his stores “in the community and keep them local.” Maass, 71, said he didn’t want to one day sell his company to be absorbed into a bigger supermarket chain. Instead, he set up the employee stock plan and recently converted his business into a “social purpose corporation,” hoping the latter change will help provide extra reasons for future owners to rebuff takeover attempts.

 The directors of social purpose corporations are expected by shareholders to consider the stated social and environmental objectives of their businesses, as well as the financial implications of any actions. “This was very important to me because I spent all these years building this place, or helping build it,” he said. He acknowledged his longtime managers and staff also played a key role in the company’s success. Maass started Oliver’s in Cotati in 1988. The company’s business office now is located in Santa Rosa, and it operates one store in Cotati, two in Santa Rosa and one in Windsor.
Oliver’s is considered an early leader in highlighting both natural and local products. More than a quarter of its products are made in the county. The business was named by Progressive Grocer magazine the 2016 outstanding independent grocer with multiple stores in the U.S.

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