Yale grad students active in grocer contract

Students welcomed news Tuesday that by late spring, they will be able to walk to buy their own produce at a Stop & Shop opening in the Whalley Avenue complex that once housed a Shaw’s Supermarket.

But for the Dwight community in which the store will operate, the store’s opening means a more promising future, according to members of the Yale Law School’s Ludwig Community Development Clinic. For the past year, a handful of students and professors associated with the clinic have worked with the Greater Dwight Development Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the Dwight community and which owns Dwight Place, to help navigate the complex legal and financial issues that surrounded the search for a new grocer.

It has been a difficult recession for the Dwight neighborhood. The area was already hurting after Rite Aid and Staples, both located near 150 Whalley, shut down just before Shaw’s announced it would be leaving last March. The Shaw’s departure last spring put the area at risk of “ghettoization,” because it was a major source of funding for the corporation’s efforts to improve the neighborhood, said Rachel Serlen ’04 LAW ’11, who directed the clinic’s efforts to bring a new grocer.

“Shaw’s leaving definitely put a damper on the plans of our client,” said Manuel Giner LAW ’12, who joined the clinic last fall. The corporation has placed an emphasis on building up the community through education; it brought a Montessori to the neighborhood, and hoped to continue such efforts to improve education in the area, said Giner.

The clinic sought to ensure that the grocer moving in would suit the needs of the community; Serlen and others on the project helped the corporation “navigate the large grocery landscape” to find the right tenant who would emphasize nutrition as well as profit. Stop & Shop, Serlen said, fits the bill well.

“They were making sure they had a really suitable tenant not only from a financial perspective, but also from a public health perspective,” she explained. “Their mission isn’t just to maximize shareholder profit.”

The students in the clinic also worked to ensure that Shaw’s departure last March did not lead to a “domino effect” in which smaller businesses in the Dwight Place shopping center followed Shaw’s lead and moved out. The loss of an anchor store like Shaw’s, Serlen said, could have triggered an “escape clause” in the other tenants’ leases that would have allowed them to vacate early if business suffered. Giner said they were able to prevent that from happening.

In addition, law school lecturer Robin Golden ’79 LAW ’98, the clinic’s director, advised the corporation on typical “corporate law” topics, including the proper wording of their contracts, and brainstormed the best way to handle a complicated lease situation, Serlen said. When Shaw’s moved into the 150 Whalley address in 1998, it signed a 20-year contract, meaning that its lease was not yet expired last year. Serlen said the students toyed with the idea of bringing in another grocer as a subletter on the property and keeping the contract under Shaw’s, but ultimately decided to draft a new lease for Stop & Shop.

The students have reaped rewards from the experience, as well, Giner said.

“I think most people go to law school thinking about being an appellate attorney … arguing in front of a judge, arguing in front of the Supreme Court,” Giner said. “This introduced another side of the law to me.”

Plus, as residents of New Haven themselves, the students will benefit from having a full-service grocer in downtown, Serlen said. During her undergraduate years, Serlen shopped at Shaw’s “all the time,” and she said she plans to frequent Stop & Shop as well.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “Who wouldn’t be?”

The clinic and the corporation have been working together for 13 years, Golden said.

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