Rochester’s only grocery store to close

A rural Vermont town is losing its only grocery store, forcing people to drive tens of miles to find a supermarket.
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 6:10 AM EDT
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ROCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - A Windsor County town is losing its only grocery store, forcing people to drive over a half hour to find a supermarket.

Mac’s Market in Rochester is set to close on May 18. Nearby residents in Rochester, Granville, and Hancock have depended on the store as the only supermarket in the area.

“It has everybody scrambling to create new shopping habits,” said Tim Crowley of Rochester.

“For me, it’s gonna be an inconvenience with lower letters. For other people, it’s almost a catastrophe,” Rochester resident Deb Scherrer said.

Mac’s Market is owned by Rutland company Sherman V. Allen which says they’re closing the store to focus resources on the long-term success of their stores in Woodstock, Essex, and Stowe. In a statement to WCAX, the company said: “This decision has not been an easy one or made hastily, and although we are saddened by it, we are hopeful that the right person or business will take this opportunity to continue operating the store.”

Without a store, townspeople say they must drive 30 to 40 minutes to Randolph, Middlebury, or Rutland.

“It’s really devastating. There’s a lot of older people who don’t drive that count on people to take them there,” Scherrer said.

“I’m 91 years old and we use it to shop on a daily or weekly basis here. To drive to Rutland, Brandon, and Middlebury will be a problem for many people,” said one Rochester resident.

Becka Warren and Jake Claro with the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund note that across Vermont, access to stores is related to transportation, and areas that might not appear to be food insecure still have challenges due to the state’s rural nature. Statewide, the USDA shows Vermont had 10 low-income and low-access areas based on the distance to a grocery store.

“That distance can even be less relevant when we’re looking at rural roads, whether we’re looking at people who are not able to travel by personal vehicle for a variety of reasons. So, in some sense, it’s more complex than the USDA data implies because it can be even harder to access food than the USDA data applies,” said Warren.

Even before the closing of Mac’s, transportation and food access proved to be a challenge in the area. A 2020 Vermont Law study of this part of the state shows 11.3% of survey respondents cited difficulty getting to a store as a reason for not having the kind of food they wanted in recent months. But there is hope in the community.

“We’re also very resilient, so somewhere between welcoming a new owner or creating our own grocery situation in town will emerge,” said Crowley.

A volunteer organization called Feeding the Valley has been distributing roughly 40 boxes of food a week to people in the Upper White River Valley, serving 130 to 250 people in the community.

“I anticipate there’s going to be an increase but we’re still trying to figure out what that’s going to show you because we live in a rural area. Some people do grow their food,” said Monica Collins from Feeding the Valley. She says there are two tracks to focus on. The first is to address the needs of people who can’t leave the community to shop. “The other track is, do we want to reimagine a grocery store, you know, what’s that going to look like?”

Collins says some conversations include what creating a food co-op would look like in town. There’s a group organized in part by Collins that has met to discuss potential short-term and long-term solutions for the store. The town says there aren’t any new developments about what will happen with the building in terms of a buyer.

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