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.
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.
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.