Cronig’s Market will withdraw from the popular Island Club discount program, touching off a stir of conversation on social media and in the aisles of the independent grocery store over weekend.

An email went out to Our Island Club members on Saturday, notifying them that Cronig’s and its health food store Healthy Additions would no longer accept the club card beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

“As one of our charter member businesses, we are disappointed by Mr. Bernier’s decision,” club founder Geoff Rose wrote. Mr. Rose followed up with a second email notifying members that Cronig’s plans to start its own discount program.

On Sunday, owner Stephen Bernier confirmed that was the case. “We’re going to do this ourselves,” he said.

Co-founded by Mr. Rose and Jonathan Bernstein 12 years ago, Our Island Club is a membership program where individuals, families and seniors pay a modest annual fee. Cardholders enjoy discounts on goods and services at participating businesses. There are more than 175 businesses that participate (including the Vineyard Gazette and Martha’s Vineyard Magazine which offer subscription discounts to cardholders). A small portion of membership fees is donated to various Island charities.

Mr. Bernier chats with employees outside store. In January, he plans to offer his own discount program. — Mark Lovewell

But by far the anchor business and arguably the strongest attraction for cardholders is Cronig’s, which includes two grocery stores (one in Vineyard Haven, the other in West Tisbury) and a health food store adjacent to the main store in Vineyard Haven.

On Sunday morning Mr. Bernier had parked himself on a low stone wall just outside the exit door at State Road Cronig’s. Sunday shoppers trickled out on a beach-weather warm day, and Mr. Bernier chatted amiably with many of them.

“When I saw that it was all over Islanders Talk [a popular Facebook page], I thought I better come down here and be available to talk to people,” he told the Gazette.

Cronig’s currently offers a 20 per cent discount to Island Card members.

Mr. Bernier said he has been in talks with Mr. Rose for some time about the program.

“I’ve been talking with Geoff for the past two or three years,” he said. “In January 2016 we went to 20 per cent, prior to that I went from 10 to 15 because I could see that Islanders needed help.” He continued:

“But then I began talking to Geoff about membership things .... and it became increasingly clear that the membership is more important than the mission.”

Mr. Bernier described recent abuse of the card by Islanders who have been paid by wealthy people to use the discount card to buy groceries. And he criticized the Island Club for excluding a class of people who may need the card the most. “Twenty five per cent of the people on this Island can’t vote,” Mr. Bernier said, referring in part to the Island’s significant Brazilian immigrant community.

To join Our Island Club, a person must be an Island voter, be employed on the Island or operate an Island business. Membership information appears on the Our Island Club website, in English and Portuguese.

Speaking to the Gazette by phone Sunday, Mr. Rose confirmed that there had been abuses but said he had been working with Mr. Bernier to solve the problems.

“The fact that there was abuse — we were working toward addressing that,” Mr. Rose said. “There were people who were abusing the card and we had conversations, we were addressing that. I thought we were working together to find a way to ... move forward together.”

He strongly refuted the notion that the club excludes members of the immigrant community and said in fact the opposite is true.

“They don’t vote but they work here and we have had an open door policy about that,” he said. “We have recognized there are segments of the population where . . . there’s a sensitivity. And we are very, very aware and sensitive to that population ... We have always tried to be inclusionary . . . let’s just say we [and Mr. Bernier] have a different perspective on that.”

Mr. Rose said the club is entering its 13th year and has 7,000 members. He would not speak directly about the impact to his business from losing Cronig’s.

“Our goal is to continue to work make the club stronger. We know there is value in the club membership and let’s hope members will continue to support the program,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bernier said he plans to develop his own discount program for qualifying Islanders and aims to develop a different set of qualifying criteria.

“If you can produce a 1099 or a W-2 showing you work on Martha’s Vineyard, if you own one home or less, if you don’t support your living expenses from a trust fund ... it’s going to be as simple as that,” he said, adding:

“Geoff Rose says that’s class warfare. I say, it’s from the bottom up. I want the help to go to the people who really need it.”

He continued:

“This is my 31st year of business — and who comes through my door .... I want to be plain about it — we are all in this together. There are people who want to shop here because they want to be able to buy good healthy food to feed their families. We need to close the loophole. I’m passionate about that.”