More than 70 New Haven residents squeezed into the Dwight police substation on Edgewood Avenue Tuesday evening to discuss the city’s grocery store “desert.”
At the meeting, sponsored by the Dwight Supermarket Concerned Citizens Committee, attendees learned the preliminary results of a survey about the effects of the Whalley Avenue Shaw’s closure last Saturday. The survey showed that 622 people, more than quarter of the 2,335 respondents, are unsure of where they will shop for groceries now or know they will shop “nowhere.”
“That’s really significant data,” said Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca who attended the meeting. “That’s 622 people with families. Some who are either elderly or disabled and are used to walking [to Shaw’s].”
The survey also showed that nearly 53 percent of respondents walked to Shaw’s to get their groceries and 45 percent indicated the prices at Shaw’s were one of the main reasons they shopped there.
The survey also asked what respondents wanted in a replacement supermarket. Good products at affordable prices, like those sold at Shaw’s, topped the list. The citizens committee created the survey and posted it online 17 days ago and also distributed paper copies. The organization was still compiling the hard copy responses at the meeting.
Currently the Greater Dwight Development Corporation, which owns the Shaw’s lot, has been working with SuperValu, Shaw’s coporate parent, to recruit a full-service supermarket to the space.
Linda Townsend-Maier, the development corporation’s executive director, said she is optimistic an replacement supermarket will be found soon. She declined to comment further on what supermarket could move in or when because talks with SuperValu are confidential.
“It’s in SuperValu’s best interest to find someone to sign the lease over to,” Townsend-Maier said. She explained that SuperValu still has eight years left on its lease and is ultimately responsible for choosing the new tenant.
“We are not defeated,” she said.
What Townsend-Maier did tell attendees was that Save-A-Lot would not be moving in, at which about half a dozen audience members called out, “That’s great.” At a previous meeting, residents said a Save-A-Lot would not be satisfactory because of the quality of its products.
In the meantime, residents are taking matters into their own hands.
At the end of the meeting, the citizens committee announced that attendees could sign up for four committees, including one to get in touch with state and national agencies to seek funding to help bring in a new supermarket, and another to devise short-term solutions.
Such solutions could include some combination of online or transportation services that help community members do their grocery shopping.
“I saw a need, and I was looking to fill it,” Paca said. “[The solution] is not going to be perfect, but we need to get something done.”
Lossie Gorham, a former Shaw’s employee, said at the meeting that she and her coworkers “lost everything” when Shaw’s closed and that she hopes a community-run, co-op grocer takes its place.
Attendees included Yale students, state Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, and state Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven.