The only major grocery store near Yale will be closing its doors in just over a month unless a replacement chain can be found.
The Shaw’s supermarket on Whalley Avenue is slated to close at the end of March, the store’s parent company, Minneapolis-based Supervalu Inc., announced Friday. Shaw’s departure follows the closure this past fall of two of other major Whalley Avenue retailers, a Rite Aid and a Staples not more than two blocks down the road from the supermarket. And unless a buyer steps forward, many New Haven residents, including Yalies, will be left without a chain grocery store within walking distance.
Supervalu is closing all 18 of its Connecticut stores so the company can “operate more efficiently and effectively within a highly competitive retail environment,” Pete Van Helden, Supervalu’s executive vice president of retail operations, said in a press release. So far the company has reached agreements to sell five of its Connecticut stores to Stop & Shop and 11 to New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corp., the wholesale retailer that operates both ShopRite and PriceRite supermarkets. But because a buyer has not yet been found for either the New Haven or Manchester, Conn., branches, both are scheduled to close March 31, Supervalu Communication Manager Dina Waxman said Sunday.
Sheila Masterson, executive director of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District, a private urban planning and consulting company that is currentlyhelping to find Shaw’s replacement, said that when the Shaw’s on Whalley Avenue opened in June 1998, it was one of the first major urban grocery stores in Connecticut, and that before its arrival, New Haven residents had to go all the way to West Haven for a major grocery store. Since it opened, the Whalley Avenue Shaw’s has been a fixture of the New Haven community, Masterson said.
“It was such shocking news when we found out Friday afternoon,” she said. “Shaw’s was a boon for the neighborhood when it first opened — it provided jobs, and its mission was to provide quality food at affordable prices.”
Masterson added that the store’s arrival was the result of a joint effort between the Whalley Avenue community and Yale.
University administrators from the Law School and School of Management helped to attract Shaw’s and develop the Whalley Avenue neighborhood, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, associate vice president of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said in an e-mail Sunday. Morand said Supervalu’s decision to close the New Haven supermarket does not reflect poorly on the economic stability of the Whalley Avenue area but rather is the result of “a broader national trend that includes consolidations, closures and sales.
Now, Masterson said she and her association are working to attract another supermarket chain to the property. As the March 31 deadline approaches, she said she hopes to use her “very strong partnership with the University” to “tap into [Yale’s] resources” and keep the store from becoming yet another vacant lot.
Her association has already begun brainstorming about how to remedy the “Shaw’s crisis” in collaboration with the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven, which was formed by Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs to help bring new businesses to the area, Masterson said.
“I’m sure Yale people will join with our neighbors to address current and future opportunities” Morand said in the e-mail.
News of the imminent closure of Shaw’s comes at a turbulent time for Whalley Avenue. Just last September and November, the Rite Aid and Staples not two blocks away from Shaw’s shuttered after the owner did not renew his lease on either property. No announcement has been made about what will be done with the former Staples and Rite Aid lots.
The Shaw’s closure also comes despite an $11.5 million refinancing of the Shaw’s Shopping Center, the Whalley Avenue complex where Shaw’s is located, just last year, in which Law School students oversaw the project and provided legal counsel.
Eight New Haven locals interviewed at Shaw’s on Sunday afternoon said they were disappointed the store will be closing and do not know where they will go to do their grocery shopping if it leaves without a replacement. Three Yale students interviewed said the closing is especially troubling because Shaw’s is the only supermarket to which Yale shuttles provide service.
Apart from local boutique grocers such as Gourmet Heaven on Broadway and Whalley Deli and Grocery on Whalley Avenue, community members will not have a major supermarket chain in the downtown area until the 27-story 360 State Street development is completed. The complex is expected to have a major grocery store on its ground level, but the exact company has not yet been named.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller, who said she does most of her grocery shopping at Shaw’s, lamented the closure.
“It’s such a terrible loss for downtown New Haven, whether you are a student or someone who lives in New Haven,” she said. “I would assume that students would feel a keen loss because of its easy accessibility to campus.”
The Whalley Avenue Shaw’s currently employs about 150 people and occupies 57,000 square feet of space.