More than 70 students and local residents flocked to the Edgewood Avenue police substation Tuesday night to discuss how to hold onto the Whalley Avenue Shaw’s.
“We want a supermarket in this neighborhood,” said Linda Townsend-Maier, director of the Greater Dwight Development Corporation. “And we will go through hell or high water to get it.”
But at the meeting, Maier said that because the parent company of Shaw’s, Minneapolis-based SuperValu Inc., signed a 20 year lease for the lot in June 1998, the supermarket chain can still decide how to use the space for the next eight years. This leaves SuperValu two options, Townsend-Maier said: It may choose to “darken” the space, rendering the store an abandoned lot, or convert it into smaller businesses and other buildings. Brian Petronella — president of the union that represents Shaw’s employees — said before the meeting that he was notified by SuperValu that the New Haven branch would “go dark” at the end of the month.
Community members said either option would pose a problem to the Dwight neighborhood because residents there do not have a major grocery store.
In an e-mail Tuesday, SuperValu spokeswoman Dina Waxman said the company hopes to find a buyer, but “if a buyer is not found, we have a closing schedule we plan to adhere to.”
Meanwhile, the actual date when Shaw’s will officially shut its doors has steadily moved up, said Shaw’s employee Deion Brunson. Now, she said, she has been told it would no longer close March 27 but rather March 23, and that fresh produce, such as seafood and deli goods, would stop being sold March 13.
At the meeting, Townsend-Maier likened Shaw’s leaving to an awful divorce in which the husband notifies his wife he will be leaving her not in person but by text message.
The University, as well as other parties involved in the courtship of Shaw’s 10 years ago, may step in for some marriage counseling. The Greater Dwight Development Corporation has been working with the Yale Law School, Office of New Haven and State Affairs and the Economic Development Corporation to find a new tenant.
Townsend-Maier said that over the last few weeks, she has been compiling finance data and a history of how Yale and the city wooed Shaw’s to the area during the mid-1990s in order to form marketing strategies that would appeal to potential buyers. She added that she will present her findings at a Thursday meeting with Yale and other community groups.
Many of the audience members questioned why the New Haven branch of Shaw’s was not picked up by Stop & Shop or New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corp., which together bought 16 of the 18 Connecticut stores owned by SuperValu. Although Townsend-Maier said the companies will not disclose why they have not have purchased the Whalley Avenue branch, she said she did not think the store closed because of poor store earnings. She estimated that Shaw’s brought in annual gross sales of between $22 and $30 million.
At the end of meeting, Whalley Avenue Special Services District Executive Director Sheila Masterson said the lot is unique enough to attract a new buyer. Ten years ago, she said, Shaw’s was attracted to the space because it was located on a bus route, it was safe and secure, the city had no major grocer and the city’s population would mean substantial revenue for the store.
“The best part is that we’re better in all these areas today than we were 10 years ago,” Masterson concluded.
Waxman said SuperValu officials have been in contact with employees about future employment. Petronella met with SuperValu officials Feb. 23 and will see them again March 8 to negotiate severance packages for the union members and possibly to find them jobs at its affiliates.
At its Monday meeting, the Board of Aldermen presented a resolution drafted by Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead that urges SuperValu 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. Aldermen are holding a public hearing concerning Morehead’s proposal within a week and a half.