- Courtesy of Monica Collins
- Mac's Market grocery store in Rochester
Once Mac's Market shuts its doors, locals will have to drive at least 25 minutes to Middlebury, Randolph or the Mad River Valley to shop at a grocery store, said Monica Collins, a resident who is helping to organize a meeting on Thursday, April 27, at the Rochester town clerk’s office.
Collins, the associate director for career services at Vermont Law & Graduate School, worked as the general manager of the independent local food co-op that opened in South Royalton in 2001 after that community lost its grocery store. Because she has experience in creating food co-ops, she and a friend, Justine Calnan Cavacas, started a grocery discussion group on Facebook in April that quickly grew to 75 people.
The loss of the store isn’t just a problem for people who don’t have transportation; it could have an impact on other businesses in Rochester, said Wendy Lossman, who lives in Bristol and has a camp in Rochester.
“When people come to the store, they frequent the hardware store, they go to the laundromat, they get their gas, and there’s a little restaurant,” Lossman said. “If you have to go to Rutland to get your groceries, you’re going to deal with everything else while you’re there."Collins and Calnan Cavacas decided to call Thursday's meeting so the community could talk about options, including a cooperative.
“There are a few different possibilities, and it’s just a matter of the community determining what works best,” Collins said.
Sherman V. Allen also owned 13 convenience stores in Vermont and neighboring states, which it sold in 2021 to a company called Global Partners, according to Winsight Grocery Business, an industry publication.
Access to healthy, affordable food in rural areas has been a matter of concern for many years. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that the share of grocery stores in rural areas has decreased over the last 25 years as the share of convenience stores, supercenters and dollar stores has risen. Dollar stores and supercenters grew the most in percentage terms — by 150 percent and 350 percent, respectively — partly because they were almost nonexistent in 1990, the USDA found in a 2021 report from its economic research service. A program called the Rural Grocery Initiative at Kansas State University looks for ways to sustain rural stores around the country and holds a biannual summit on the issue.
Collins said any long-term solution to the Mac's Market closure would take time to set up, so Thursday's meeting will also focus on short-term help for people who don’t have the means to drive out of the area. She said local food producers have already started working on plans for publicizing what they have available for sale every week.
“That will get us through the summer,” Collins said. “We’ll have to brainstorm as a community what we can do to get us through this urgent need while we develop a long-term solution.”
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"In terms of accessing services, people don't always know where to go, and, frankly, agencies don't always know what to do with us," Collins said. "This matters to folks who won’t be able to access the grocery store who might be in a vulnerable situation, if they're going to need extra help."
The meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Rochester town clerk’s office, or on Zoom.