Our Opinion: In store's absence, town of Lee steps up

The Price Chopper supermarket in Lee closed its doors for the last time one week ago today in another case of a large chain operation ridding itself of an unwanted unit — which is the prerogative of any business. However, from the perspective of local residents living in proximity to the market — many of them elderly and without transportation — having a food store within walking distance was viewed as an absolute necessity.

The Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper has tried since last month's closing to find jobs with competitors for displaced workers or to provide them with severance packages. Meanwhile, the clientele that has depended on having a market at the Price Chopper location for 57 years must resort to patronizing the Big Y south of the turnpike overpass, which is too great a distance for most elderly residents to navigate easily.

Local residents and government agencies have stepped up admirably to bridge the gap in the short term. The Lee Council on Aging has obtained the use of a 10-person handicapped-equipped van from its sister agency in Lenox, and private donations are covering the cost of a driver to run a shuttle to the Big Y every Thursday. The Berkshire Rapid Transit Authority is scheduling an extra hourly stop and juggling some routes. Volunteers are being sought to personally help the elderly and infirm with their food errands. It is in situations like these that the cohesion of a community can show its strength, and Lee has not been found wanting.

When the closing announcement was made, The Eagle called on Price Chopper to acknowledge the 46-year patronage of its customer base and delay selling the building — which Price Chopper owns — to a different kind of business while attempts are made to find another grocer to occupy the space (Eagle editorial, July 27). To date, there is no news that the effort has been successful.

One suggestion that has been put forward is to convince the trendy Trader Joe's chain — which as yet has as no presence in Berkshire County — to occupy the space, creating a magnet that would attract customers from part-time-resident-rich South County (making the prospect more economically attractive for the fast-growing chain). Another private sector-based idea might be for Big Y and Wal-mart, two stores in Lee that will surely benefit from Price Chopper's closing, to provide their own regular shuttles to service the downtown elderly communities.

Lee has not yet reached the end of the road regarding options. Thanks to the efforts of local citizens and agencies, what could have developed into a humanitarian issue has been limited to an inconvenience. In the meantime, we urge Price Chopper to exercise forbearance regarding the sale of the property while local efforts to find a replacement grocer continue.


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