ADAMS, Mass. — Big Y supermarkets is closing its Myrtle Street location in March and laying off approximately 90 employees. The regional chain is working with a partner it hopes will purchase and operate the store.
In a statement released on Thursday just after noontime, company officials said the 16,000-square-foot, 50-year-old structure in downtown Adams cannot support the items and types of services the grocer now offers.
Town officials were caught off-guard by the announcement, only learning about it when residents began contacting them.
"The town had no advanced knowledge of the closing – it came as a complete shock to the Select Board and town staff after hearing from community members this morning," said Donna Cesan, the town's community development director and interim town administrator, in an email response. "This is a huge blow for downtown residents without personal transportation.
"The downtown has been anchored by a drug store at one end and a grocery at the other, making it highly livable and walkable. For many elderly and low-income residents without access to a vehicle, this will create a severe hardship. The loss of employment for so many community residents is also a significant concern. Closing this store will have the effect of creating a 'food desert' for many Adams residents."
The closest markets to Adams and Cheshire are the Walmart Superstore on Curran Highway and the Big Y in downtown North Adams to the north, and stores in Pittsfield to the south.
"It is always difficult to close a store, especially one that has been part of the Big Y family for 35 years," said Charles L. D'Amour, Big Y president and CEO, in the statement. "We appreciate all of the help and support from this employee team along with our loyal customers who have been shopping there. We hope that we can continue to serve these loyal shoppers at other Big Y locations in Berkshire County."
Big Y officials say they are "aggressively pursuing another operator" for the location.
"We have identified a partner," said Richard D. Bossie, senior vice president of operations, but added he could not confirm the operator at this point. "Those talks are ongoing. That is a key part of our strategy to have a partner who can operate that store."
Bossie said employees were informed Thursday morning about the decision and will be given compensation based on their years of tenure. Big Y has partnered with Mass Hire in Pittsfield to aid with job searches and other outplacement services for those employees affected by this change. Should the sale take place, the employees would have to reapply with the new owner.
Some may apply to other stores in the Big Y chain but there were not enough openings to accommodate the entire staff, he said. "They are leaving us in very good standing."
According to a number of employees, the managers were immediately given notice and escorted from the building and the staff was informed they would have to work out their final hours to receive severance.
The grocery is expected to close the first week in March. This week's sales will continue as scheduled and then the store will begin heavy discounting leading up to the closure.
Selectman James Bush said he found out about the closing Thursday morning when someone from the store emailed him.
"It's gonna be a huge deficit," he said. "It was quite the shock, I'm dumbfounded. We have a huge elderly population and they walk to shop."
Bossie said the decision was driven by the location's small size and lack of space on 2.48 acres for any type of new construction or addition.
"It's unlike any other store in our company," he said, noting it's a third the size of Big Y's average 55,000-square-foot groceries. "Big Y does business in certain sort of way . ... We need a certain amount of space and we couldn't squeeze it into that location."
The grocer offers a wide variety of products in its larger stores including store-made pizza, fish and chips and sushi that are not available in Adams. There's limited space organic foods and native produce. Big Y said there are 40 percent fewer offerings available in Adams than in other stores.
The store's pharmacy also has no space for private medication consultation and no room for immunizations such as flu and pneumonia vaccines.
Bossie said Big Y invested a half million into the store in 2013 to bring it up to date but that was not enough.
"I cried. I have become so close with so many of these women," said Heather Cachat Blake, who coming out of the market Thursday. "It is really sad not to mention we have lost so many businesses in Adams in a couple of weeks. It almost gives this feeling of hopelessness. I personally don't feel hopeless, I feel there is something we can do but it is a blow."
"It's sad," Claudia Clark, who like Jill Rand were on their way into the store Thursday afternoon.
"This is terrible I don't like Walmart," said Rand. "Now I have to drive to the Big Y in North Adams."
Cesan said the town is still absorbing the news but is taking some actions. First, officials are reaching out to Big Y to discuss its decision and how the town can be helpful in securing a successor.
"We have reached out to the BRTA about their transportation routes and access to better assist downtown residents with transportation options," she wrote. "And we will be reaching out to the Mass Hires Rapid Response Team to assist employees who could likely lose their jobs."
There could be additional steps as the town collects more information.
The grocer is evaluating the need for a shuttle service to bring Adams residents to the North Adams location. Bossie said the company may partner with a local transportation service should it see a need.
This is the second grocer to close an outdated location in North County: Price Chopper shuttered its 60-year-old market in 2016. Bossie said the other Big Y locations in Berkshire County are good shape.
Adams Supermarkets began as a butcher shop in Adams in 1917; by 1969, the local chain had six stores and a third of the county's total food market. Paul and Gerry D'Amour began in 1936 as the Y Cash Market in Chicopee. Big Y Foods Inc. is now one of the largest independently owned supermarket chains in New England.
"It will go dark for a period of time," Bossie said of the store. "We hope that time is particularly short."
Updated at 6 p.m. with remarks from interim Town Administrator Donna Cesan.
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