NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — City Councilor Rebbecca Cohen is urging the city's leadership to address the food desert in Greylock created by the closure of Price Chopper.
Cohen said she's had numerous discussions about this issue with citizens in that section of the city's West End.
"I have been very concerned about two developments in the West End — Brayton Hill and Greylock [Valley] project — and their lack of transportation infrastructure and the inability to get to healthy products," she said. "I waited, just as all of us did, for something to come into the West End to give them options other than the mom and pop stores that were around ... and that just has not come yet."
Price Chopper on State Road closed in February 2016 after 56 years. It was smaller than its larger competitors to the east (D'Amours Big Y) and west (Stop & Shop) but was a "just right" for the neighborhood it served. The store was in the middle of a heavily residential area with sidewalks making it easily accessible to the hundreds of residents surrounding it. There is a package and variety store nearby.
Its closure has been a burden on the neighborhood, many of whom are lower income or have limited transportation to the other groceries that are more than a mile away in each direction, said Cohen.
"Equal accessibility to healthy foods and gas to fuel their vehicles continues to be an issue to those that reside in the West End of North Adams," she wrote in her communique to the City Council. "For those that do not have access to a vehicle, this common complaint poses even more of an issue because of the distance to a grocery store that offers healthy food for a whole family. This directly correlates to the dependency on convenience stores, which specialize in cigarettes, candy, alcohol, and junk food."
A number of local officials and developers have reached out to potential replacements, and there was a local push to attract a Trader Joe's with no success. Golub Corp., which owns the building, has been trying to find a tenant or purchaser.
The West End has been without a gas station for several years as well: the former Gibbs was torn down and fenced off a decade ago and the Getty gas station has been in limbo for several years. The owners took out a permit to demolish the existing structures and build new more than two years — they just started on upgrades recently but were told their permit has expired and they must come before the Planning Board.
That leaves the closest stations over the town line in Williamstown and the Cumberland Farms on Ashland Street.
These developments may be private, but Cohen feels "that there is a need for larger conversations with our leadership." Her suggestion was to refer it to the Community Development Board and perhaps to extend the conversation to involve more stakeholders.
City Councilor Eric Buddington said he was supportive but "I don't see any solution and I hope we can involve the [Northern Berkshire] Community Coalition and UNO because they have a lot of information that I don't have off the top of my head."
Buddington said he'd used the bus to get around when he first came to the city but it was hard to use because of its limited hours and lack of service on Sundays.
"It's a pretty vital issue in the West End," City Councilor Marie T. Harpin "I see people on their bicycles with 10 bags of groceries ... I see bicycles, I see parents with children."
She thought the best way to help was through reliable transportation and suggested a resolution to the city's state representatives.
"We need to take care of these people and make sure they have access."
Cohen provided some research material on barriers to healthy food and how that affected dietary behaviors in communities. Some 17.6 million households in the United States lacked the means to meet the nutritional needs of their members in 2012, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
"Food access is a critical component of food insecurity, and it is often considered a function of a variety of factors, including the spatial proximity to food resources, as well as the affordability, cultural appropriateness, and the nutritional adequacy of available resources," the article reads. "Limited food access has been found to disproportionately affect low-income individuals who are more likely to live in communities with limited availability of healthful foods, specifically fresh fruits and vegetables."
Resident Robert Cardimino asked about the two housing projects at the far east end of the city — Village East and Mohawk Forest — and how far they are from Big Y on Veterans Memorial Drive.
"I'd say from the [veterans] monument it's a mile to the Five Corners," he said.
Cohen said she did think of those residents and did some browsing at nearby convenience stores, like the new Cumberland Farm that sits between the two housing developments on the east end of the city.
"I hate to say it but Cumberland Farms has healthier food access," she said. "I feel as though the West End has less access ... I would love to have a resolution ... or a letter to our legislators that we do have an issue but this is leadership in the city recognizing that there are people in the city who need us."
The council referred the communique to the Community Development Board and to come back to the full council on Nov. 27.
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