AMHERST – Amherst’s mayor was disappointed several years ago when Co-op Atlantic pulled out of the downtown, and his doubly distressed with the decision to close the area’s last grocery store.
“I’m definitely disappointed with Sobeys decision to close our store,” the mayor said. “It’s terrible for those people who are losing their jobs, and it’s not good for our downtown to lose our only grocer.”
The mayor said he’s going to be contacting the complex’s owner Crombie REIT to see if there’s a way that another grocery chain could be enticed into the location after Foodland closes next week.
“First we had two grocers in the downtown and when one closed it was ‘OK, at least there’s one left.’ Now it’s going to be a case where there’s no grocer downtown,” the mayor said. “This one came as a huge surprise because they made a huge investment in that place just two years ago and all indications were that sales were good there.”
At least, he would like to see another employer move into the area to replace the jobs lost. He said the Co-op closure is an example he hopes can be followed.
After Co-op closed its grocery store on Lawrence Street, the town, working with Nova Scotia Business Inc., was able to entice a customer support centre into the facility. When that call centre closed, another long-term tenant moved into the building.
He’s also disappointed with the decision because it goes against the town’s strategy for the downtown. Council made the downtown one of its priorities following the 2008 election and with the help of the provincial and federal governments did a lot of infrastructure work in the area including new pavement, new sidewalks and a refurbished Victoria Square.
Another major priority for the town has been to entice more people to live in the downtown. The mayor’s not sure if the closure will hinder residential development in the downtown, but he’s concerned it could impact traffic.
“Anytime you lose an employer in your downtown it sets you back,” the mayor said. “We’ve had a relatively good run of new businesses opening in the downtown and we were essentially full until this announcement. The vacancies had been filled. But, you get that regular grocery traffic at all hours of the day and it means both foot and vehicle traffic in the downtown. I hope we don’t lose some of that because of this.”
The closure is the latest in a series of good news/bad news stories for Amherst in recent months and years. The town lost its Zellers store when the national company was sold to Target, but Giant Tiger recently partially filled that void when it opened a new store two weeks ago.
Sears Canada’s Amherst store reopened this week after being closed for just over a week after its owner decided to walk away from his relationship with the company.
The town also lost Stenek Corporation in the industrial park.
“I wouldn’t say the economy is struggling. We’re holding our own. I’m not going to say we’re doing super, but I will say there are a lot of municipalities who wish they have what we have,” the mayor said. “But, it’s a soft market right now and it’s a challenge.”
However, he added, he has talked to other business owners who say things are lucrative.