AMHERST – Employees at Foodland felt as if they were punched in the gut when they were told their jobs are ending next week.
“There was no indication this was coming,” said an employee, who asked not to be identified because they were told not to talk to the media.
The employees said staff were told of the closure on Wednesday evening. Management were told first, then the part-time employees.
The part-time employees are not being offered jobs with other stores in the corporation, but are getting severance based on experience. They were also told not to speak to the media.
“I’m very disappointed because I don’t think they really gave us a chance to show what we could do or could become,” the employee said. “They said we were an underperforming store, but I don’t think they gave it a chance. The downtown is such a vibrant place today and it was great to be part of that. I just don’t think corporate understand that or gave it a chance.”
The store underwent a major renovation just two years ago when the company dropped the Price Chopper name and converted the store to a Foodland.
The employee is most concerned for the people who use the store.
“There is a very unique demographic at our store. Sure we have some of the wealthiest people in Amherst shopping there, but we also have a lot of people who are on low or fixed incomes,” the employee said. “I’d say the bulk of our customers are on a low or fixed income. Those are the ones I feel the most for today.”
Another employee, who again asked for anonymity, is not impressed at all.
“Right now, frankly, I’m angry and disappointed,” the employee said. “All of us are, and so are our customers.”
The employee said there was no warning and every indication was that all was good. Unfortunately, the employee said, the store didn’t get the support it needed in the community and Sobey’s decided to close it.
Colleen Dowe of Empowering Beyond Barriers said the news is devastating to those living on fixed incomes and those living at or beyond the poverty line because it’s the only full-service grocery store in the downtown.
It’s also the second grocery store to close in the downtown.
Co-op Atlantic closed its Amherst store in January 2006 citing declining sales and the inability to keep a positive bottom line.
Dowe said a lot of people depend on Foodland because they don’t have their own transportation to get to the bigger grocery stores on South Albion Street.
“The first thing I thought of when I heard it was closing was the seniors. There is a senior’s housing close by and those people rely on that store,” Dowe said. “I remember a few years ago we purchased some grocery carts to help them carry their groceries from the store to the Fort Cumberland.”
Dowe said the cost of a $12 or $14 cab ride is going to be prohibitive to a lot of people, who will now be forced to go to the Superstore and Sobey’s across town.
“For some people that’s going to be difficult,” Dowe said. “This is going to have a big impact on the downtown. It’s sad, really, and it’s going to be a huge barrier for a lot of people.”
Rev. Charlotte Ross of the Amherst Food Assistance Network is not sure the closure will result in more clients, but she said it’s not going to help the situation.
“This is not something the community needed, that’s for sure,” she said. “We are still serving about 300 families a month and there’s no end in sight. This is not going to help.”
Ross said some of the part-time employees there have used the food bank in the past and she wouldn’t be surprised to see them again.