Adams Big Y closing: No shuttle to other markets lined up yet

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ADAMS — As remaining goods fly off shelves at Big Y, Adams residents without means of transportation could soon struggle to buy groceries.

In announcing its impending closure of the Myrtle Street store, Big Y recognized that it was the town's only supermarket and said it would provide a shuttle service between Adams and its nearest Big Y location in North Adams.

But, as of Friday, the company was still ironing out the details of how a free shuttle would operate.

"It is a work in progress; we've made a bunch of phone calls," said Ranaan Hartman, sales and merchandising mentor At Big Y. "We're very aggressively looking for a provider."

The Springfield-based grocery store chain, which has 82 locations, cited the small size of the store in justifying the closure, which will eliminate about 90 jobs. Other markets have been renovated to include amenities like pizza ovens, fresh sushi and cafe-style seating — but none of those were possible in Adams.

The Myrtle Street location, which Big Y operated since 1984, is about one-third the size of a typical Big Y store, and the lot it's on is too small for the store to be expanded.

"The things that make us different, we just weren't able to do in that location due to size," Hartman said. "We could never turn that into a full-size Big Y."

As the store prepares to close in early March, much of the situation remains fluid.

Not only are company officials working out logistics of a shuttle, it's unclear for how long such a shuttle would need to operate, as Big Y says it continues to negotiate with a buyer for the Myrtle Street property who would step in and operate a grocery store in Big Y's absence.

Progress toward a sale of the store is moving along more quickly than anticipated, Hartman said, but there is still no timeline for a new company to take the reins. Big Y has declined to identify the potential buyer.

"We're thinking this is moving along a lot quicker than we thought," Hartman said.

Meanwhile, the store is expected to close in the first week of March and it will soon be out of basics like meat, milk and produce. The store's inventory began to rapidly decline on Thursday, when it started deeply discounting every item inside, sparking a rush of customers and waits of an hour or more in checkout lines.

"The store probably won't have a lot of products by the end of the weekend," Hartman said.

There are challenges to getting a shuttle service up and running, including insurance.

"We're looking at all avenues and anything we can do to provide assistance to the Adams community," Hartman said. "Right now, we're still just talking to everybody, seeing what is feasible."

Big Y has been in touch with the Adams Council on Aging about bolstering its services.

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"They're talking to us about looking into providing a shuttle service. They're interested in doing something, but nothing's been put into contract form yet," said Council on Aging Director Erica Girgenti. "We will continue to provide transportation services to our community as we always have to receive groceries, and we are looking to do some extended hours in the interim."

The agency had been providing transportation for seniors and disabled adults to the Big Y every Tuesday to take advantage of a senior discount. Now, it's likely the agency will provide transportation on Thursdays, instead of Tuesday, to the Walmart or Big Y in North Adams.

The details have yet to be finalized, but due to funding restrictions at the Council on Aging, the service will remain exclusive to disabled seniors and adults. Residents should follow the Council on Aging on Facebook for updates, or call 413-743-8333.

One transportation option available to Adams residents is provided by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, which connects downtown Adams and North Adams via its Route 1 from Pittsfield to North Adams. The bus operates from 5:45 a.m. to 7:20 p.m. Monday through Friday, and on Saturday from 7:15 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. There is no service on Sundays.

The Route 1 bus stops on Center Street in front of the Big Y parking lot and terminates at Walmart in North Adams.

Closer alternatives — though with a more limited selection — include the Cumberland Farms, Rite Aid and Dollar General stores in Adams.

The store's impending closure has sparked acts of generosity in Adams.

Sherri Gordon offered a free ride to the North Adams Walmart after she gets out of work on Wednesdays or Thursdays in a post on the Adams Informed Facebook page.

"I'm sure if we all could donate an hour or so out of our lives we as a community will get through this hurdle. Just message me if needed," Gordon wrote.

Not everyone has a car, Gordon told The Eagle.

"Reading the posts on Facebook, it's very depressing, and I just wanted to try to help somebody, even if it's just one person," said Gordon, who as of Friday had not yet had anyone take her up on the offer.

As of Friday, fresh meat and bread were sold out at the Big Y in Adams, but some processed meats, cheese, eggs and milk were still available. Employees worked to condense merchandise to the middle shelves as items sold, leaving bottom and top shelves empty. While coupons and Big Y cards were not accepted, few complaints were heard in the checkout line.

On Feb. 15, state Sen. Adam Hinds and Rep. John Barrett III issued a statement sharply critical of Big Y for its failure to engage with the community prior to announcing the closure. In an interview with The Eagle this week, Hinds said the uncertainty around shuttle service "confirms that what Rep. Barrett and I said earlier."

"These are the type of things that it would useful to have a little bit of runway and some lead time [for]," Hinds said.

The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act mandates that certain employers give workers 60 days of notice before layoffs. But the requirement did not apply to the Adams Big Y because it had fewer than 100 employees, according to Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the MassHire Berkshire Workforce Board in Pittsfield.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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