New Haven starved for a grocer

As the increasingly bare shelves of the Shaw’s on Whalley Avenue portend its planned closing at the end of the month, city officials are trying to keep the vital grocery store open, at least for the time being.
As the increasingly bare shelves of the Shaw’s on Whalley Avenue portend its planned closing at the end of the month, city officials are trying to keep the vital grocery store open, at least for the time being. Photo by Egidio DiBenedetto.

John Mitchell, a Dixwell resident who has bought his groceries at Shaw’s for as long as he can remember, said he doesn’t want to shop anywhere else. But as the employees at the store start to leave and the produce available for purchase becomes more and more scarce, Mitchell and his neighbors near the moribund grocery store have to find other ways to stock their pantries.

“All the others like Stop & Shop and C-Town just aren’t as good as this Shaw’s,” Mitchell said. “It’s a shame to see it go.”

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When it opened in 1998, Shaw’s became a vital resource for New Haven residents, who at the time did not have a major grocery store in the city. Convincing Shaw’s to come to New Haven was a result of a joint effort by Yale and city officials, but now, as the store begins to wind down its operations in anticipation of closing at the end of this month, community members — including Yale officials — are searching for a way to save it.

At its Monday meeting, the Board of Aldermen introduced a resolution drafted by Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead that urges Shaw’s parent company, Minneapolis-based SuperValu Inc., to postpone closing the store until a new buyer is found and to help workers at the Whalley Avenue Shaw’s to find employment at one of its affiliate branches. Morehead said he plans on scheduling a meeting with SuperValu officials and Ward 2 Alderman Gina Calder ’03 EPH ’08 — in whose ward Shaw’s is located — this week in order to broker such a deal. But the proposal does not mention any way to prevent SuperValu from closing the store.

Tonight, Whalley Avenue community members, the Community Economic Development Clinic at Yale Law School and the New Haven Food Policy Council are hosting a meeting at the police substation on Edgwood Avenue to discuss Shaw’s closing and how they might use the same approach they used 10 years ago to court a new grocery chain.

But it still remains to be seen whether history will repeat itself, and time is running out.

WOOING SHAW’S

The loss of Shaw’s comes as a blow to the Dwight neighborhood, which recently lost both a Rite Aid and a Staples two blocks away from the store. The closing is also troubling to local residents, considering the effort community leaders put into acquiring the store.

The process of securing a large-scale grocer in New Haven began in the early 1990s, said Sheila Masterson, the executive director of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District, a private urban planning and consulting company that is currently helping to find a replacement for Shaw’s.

Before Shaw’s arrived, Masterson described Whalley Avenue as “an area in transition.” When car dealerships that used to line Whalley Avenue realized that it would be more profitable for them to move farther toward West Rock, they all moved away in the early 1990s, creating an economic void in the Dwight neighborhood. In response, Masterson and her community management team looked to Yale to help find new tenants.

Meanwhile, along with the creation of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs in the 1990s, Yale started to reach out to local organizations to stabilize the area surrounding the campus and to revitalize the Dwight neighborhood.

Dwight was always a “neighborhood of interest” because of its proximity to central campus and the number of Yale students who live in off-campus housing near Whalley Avenue, said Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, University vice president for New Haven and state affairs.

The steps toward actually bringing Shaw’s to its current lot, however, started around 1993, Masterson said. At that time, the Dwight community management team started to work with Yale to apply for federal grants to create jobs in the area and develop nearby properties. The process culminated in 1996, when Yale and the Dwight team entered a competition for one of six $2.4 million federal grants that were intended for American universities that foster relationships with their surrounding towns to improve economic development.

“It was almost tailor-made for us,” Morand said.

They won, and Yale decided to match the grant with an additional $6 million.

Grant in hand, the community team decided to split it up four ways: to build an addition to the Timothy Dwight Elementary School on Edgewood Avenue, to help found the Alexis Hill Montessori School on Grand Avenue, to form the Greater Dwight Development Corporation to serve the needs of economic development in and around the Dwight area, and to determine what was to be done with an empty lot on Whalley Avenue.

Working with Yale Law School and the School of Management, the Greater Dwight Development Corporation realized that a grocery store would best meet the needs of the Dwight neighborhood. A study conducted in the late 1990s by SOM students showed that New Haven residents spent over $100 million at supermarkets outside of the city. Four supermarket chains competed for the lot and submitted designs for how they would develop the lot. The Greater Dwight Development Corporation ultimately chose the Shaw’s proposal as the best for the neighborhood. The store opened in June 1998.

“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know we needed a supermarket in the area,” Masterson said.

MOVING ON

Since SuperValu announced the closing of all 18 Connecticut branches of the supermarket last month, the company has not yet found a grocery chain that would purchase the New Haven store. Almost 12 years since the store’s grand opening, customers are not the only ones left with a sense of abandonment as a result of its closing.

Deion Brunson, who has worked at Shaw’s for 10 years, said Sunday that her colleagues “don’t want to come to work.” Fresh produce is now delivered only once a week as opposed to the multiple times every week before the closing was announced. Brunson and three other workers interviewed added that SuperValu did not notify them of the branch’s closing any earlier than the general public.

Fifteen shoppers interviewed at Shaw’s said they were disappointed to hear of the store’s closing and are unsure where they will continue to shop. Five said they would be forced to travel further up Dixwell Avenue to the closest Stop & Shop in Hamden.

Three Yale students recently interviewed said the closing is especially troubling because Shaw’s is the only supermarket to which Yale shuttles provide service. But a New Haven developer, Becker + Becker Associates, has been negotiating with supermarkets interested in moving into the downtown 360 State, the largest private construction project in the history of New Haven, since mid-September, and the closing of Shaw’s may jump start the opening of that downtown grocery store, said the company’s president, Bruce Becker ARC ’85 SOM ’85, last month.

Comments

  • Grokthis

    Capitalism takes participation. The right way to solve this problem is to ask SuperValu why they must close and broker a deal with a new grocer with plans to make sure that those problems are solved over the long term. The U.S. and it’s communities need to learn how to create long lasting livable neighborhoods. The days of using resources to prop up a city or a town are over. Its not just about finding out where to get money anymore, we have to find out how that money is made and if it will be a resource for a long time to come. Successful corporations have done this, it is time for our communities to start as well.

  • 2010

    The images are reminiscent of socialism.

  • anonymous

    I would hope the Mayor of New Haven gets involved, as he was present for the opening of Shaw’s, and he should fight to keep it here.

  • old grocer

    Becker’s new development is horrendous from a cost efficiency point of view 9for a grocery store with a footprint over 10,000square feet) – and all nationals are many times larger than that – I used to be a professional in the business, and I am almost positive that Trader Joe’s (smaller footprint so might have worked), Whole Foods, and ShopRite said “NO” unless Becker PAYS THEM to move in, – literally. Whole Foods and Trader Joes are now in Milford – successfully, and it is well known that the average ticket (purchase) of stores in a location like Becker’s would be a fraction of suburban, car-based locations. Whether we like it or not 9and I don’t due to the adverse urban planning implications), that is how it works. This (linking Becker’s development) to grocery based retail was laudable, but extremely difficult to implement. If New Haven considers grocery stores a “public good” and beneficial, then they should abate property taxes accordingly. Even if in an Empowerment or Development zone, Op Costs in New Haven create huge cost inefficiencies that can not be offset by the increased 9theoretical) sales

  • Yale 08

    Socialism would be accompanied by lines and lines of people clamoring for food.

    New Haven residents and Yale students are not in such dire straights. (Most could drop a few lbs.)

  • ’12

    @#5
    Shaw’s is the only store that is a source of healthy, reasonably priced food to the Yale community and to New Haven residents. When an area becomes a Food Desert there is a rise in obesity.
    No one will “drop a few pounds” with the closing of Shaw’s–the residents will start depending more on cheap, unhealthy food, and likely obesity will be on the rise (a scary thought since it is already such a problem in the local community).

  • Tanner

    Please explain to my why Ferraro’s can
    operate nextdoor to a housing project, in a neighborhood with higher crime rates, with a store that is beyond retro to downright nostaligic can thrive; while a store with much deeper pockets and which has a record of success fail in neighborhood close to a major university? Think Locally I’m sure

  • Pierson ’10

    How does Morehead plan to get SuperValu to employ this Shaw’s employees at another branch… if they’re closing all 18 Connecticut branches? (And to all the other commenters, closing ALL Connecticut branches sounds like a strategic move — not the kind of thing that local incentives or urban planning could solve.)

  • it’s more than New Haven

    Shaws is pulling out of 13 CT stores, not just New Haven. This is clearly an issue that goes beyond just New Haven.

  • toosinbeymen

    Forget Shaws. As it turns out, Stop and Shop at 1245 Dixwell Avenue in Hamden‎ is more convenient for me because getting there doesn’t require a bus transfer. I don’t know why the article put Stop and Shop in the same catigory as C-Town, though I haven’t been to the store in Hamden. The Stop and Shop in Port Chester is WAY better than Shaws.

  • Alum

    Please, people, READ the story.

    Shaw’s decision to pull out of Connecticut is a broad, strategic one. But the problem is that while other supermarket chains eagerly picked up all but two of Shaw’s locations, they didn’t want two of them, one of those unwanted ones being the one in New Haven. This is bad.

    We REALLY need a grocery store in downtown New Haven, and I do not think this new thing at 360 State is going to fill the void at all (although there’s more than enough demand for that one two, in its area).

    I hope that Yale’s ONHSA and the Greater Dwight Development Corp can somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat one more time and persuade a supermarket to reopen on this site… I was at Yale when Shaw’s opened, and I can’t tell you what a huge difference it made to the quality of life in New Haven as a whole. If the Dwight neighborhood loses that supermarket and nothing replaces it, we may be looking at a big part of New Haven taking a serious hit, in a way that will affect everything — health, unemployment, crime, and the quality of life in the whole city. This is serious stuff.

  • woods

    It would be great to persuade Edge of the Woods to move to at least some of that space.

  • C-towner

    There used to be a C-Town a couple of blocks over on Dixwell. They closed because they couldn’t compete with Shaws. Now that Shaws is going, how about a new and improved C-Town?

  • Yaleman

    Edge of the Woods is great, and its pizzas are too!

  • Ryan Healey

    “At its Monday meeting, the Board of Aldermen introduced a resolution drafted by Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead that urges Shaw’s parent company, Minneapolis-based SuperValu Inc., to postpone closing the store until a new buyer is found and to help workers at the Whalley Avenue Shaw’s to find employment at one of its affiliate branches.”

    You have to be kidding. Someone actually took time to draft a resolution to ask a company in another part of the country with thousands of grocery stores to keep operating the New Haven store at a loss and make it the only store they have left in CT until a buyer is found when they already tried to sell it and found no interested parties.

    Someone really thought that would work and would be a good use of time? Really?