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Shaw’s closing in Lynn adds to existing grocery gap

LYNN — When Shaw’s supermarket closes next month, it will become even more difficult for many of the city’s low-income residents to have access to a full-service grocery store and fresh food.

The closure of the downtown grocery store, which is scheduled for Feb. 16, is expected to exacerbate an existing problem in the city.

Lynn ranks in the top 10 communities in the state with the most significant grocery gap, areas where residents are underserved by available groceries and markets, according to the Massachusetts Food Trust.

Lynn ranked eighth on the list released as part of a 2017 report, which showed that 2.8 million people living in low-income areas in Massachusetts lack access to grocery stores, including more than 700,000 children and 523,000 seniors.

When Shaw’s closes, there will be four supermarkets remaining in the city — Market Basket on Federal Street, Stop & Shop on Washington Street, Stop & Compare on Adams Street and Price Rite on the Lynnway — and none in the downtown.

A company spokeswoman said the closure was due to the State Street location being an “underperforming store.” Lynn’s closure was announced along with three other Shaw’s locations, Leominster, Plymouth and Portsmouth, N.H.

With the closure, there won’t be a grocery store within walking distance for hundreds of residents who live in downtown housing complexes such as Harbor Loft Apartments, Willow Apartments, Neptune Towers, Rolfe House and Marian Gardens, according to Dianne Kuzia Hills, executive director of My Brother’s Table, the Lynn-based organization that serves free meals to those in need.

“I think it’s really going to hurt the downtown residents,” said Hills. “I think sometimes people think of the downtown being shops, but there’s a ton of people who live there. A lot of them are elderly and disabled.

“I have heard a lot of people talking about (the closure). Most of our guests (at My Brother’s Table) live within eight to 10 blocks of our building. That’s their grocery store. There has been talk of where are they going to go, where are they going to shop. My Brother’s Table even shops there.”

For those residents who would typically walk to Shaw’s, their options become limited. There’s the bus, but an MBTA rule sets a two grocery bag limit for riders. The rule makes it challenging to buy groceries for the week. People could take the bus to the store and a taxi back, but the latter eats into an already limited budget, Hills said.

For people who want to continue shopping in their neighborhood, there are corner stores and bodegas, but there isn’t the same offering of produce and fresh food and prices are often higher. There’s a downtown farmer’s market in the summer, but the winter lacks that access to fresh food.

With Market Basket opening in the summer of 2017, Hills said it might be easy for people to say there’s no net loss with the closure of Shaw’s, but the two are located in different sectors of the city.

For the most part, grocery stores seem to be concentrated in the southeastern part of the city, which before the loss, meant other sections of the city were not close or within walking distance to supermarkets.

In an interview with The Item over the summer, Hills said the limitation in Lynn may not always be access to supermarkets or food, but rather factors related to a person’s income, or their ability to purchase food from available grocery stores.

For instance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a federal monthly supplement for low-income individuals to purchase nutritious food at supermarkets, are limited.

“I think oftentimes it’s the lowest income population and individuals this impacts the most, depending on how many stores are in close proximity,” said Kristina Kimani, coalition and advocacy manager for the Massachusetts Public Health Association, a non-profit statewide membership organization which calls itself a champion for public health in Massachusetts.

“It’s a human right to have access to food and taking that away from people is a real problem.”

Kimani said there’s work being done to address the issue of a lack of access to grocery stores in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Food Trust program was launched in October with seed funding by the Gov. Charlie Baker administration. The program provides loans, grants and business assistance for increasing access to healthy, affordable food in low-income, underserved areas.

“I don’t know what the reason is for the closing at Shaw’s, but the Mass Food Trust program is supposed to fill that gap,” Kimani said. “(Shaw’s) can apply for funding from the Mass Food Trust program to stay open.”

Despite the option, the plan remains for Shaw’s to close next month in Lynn with the future of the space uncertain. But those hoping it becomes another grocery store shouldn’t get their hopes up. Hills said a grocery store is the one thing she heard it won’t be, as Market Basket would be a tough competitor.

“We are actively seeking to fill this space with best in-class retailers that meet the needs of the Lynn community,” said Kristen Moore, a spokeswoman for Brixmor Property Group, the New York firm that owns the property where Shaw’s is located, in a statement. “We look forward to sharing new tenant names once leases are completed.”

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