B y Dan King

Supermarket 1

The old Aubuchon Harware building also used to be a grocery store, called Jumbo’s.

David Molenaar has lived in Whitehall for only about two years, but he’s taking an active role in the community.

The North Williams Street resident is going door-to-door around the village with a petition to bring a supermarket to Whitehall. He said he already has about 300 signatures.

“People have responded very enthusiastically,” he said. “A small handful – maybe four or five – have refused to sign it. We’re around 300 now.”

Molenaar said members of the Chamber of Commerce and Village Planning Board have signed it and some businesses in town have been giving the petition out to their customers.

The petition reads: “We are residents of the Whitehall area who desire a supermarket in Whitehall. We urge our town and village representatives to proactively contact grocery chains and offer incentives to locate in Whitehall.”

Asked what types of “incentives” he had in mind, Molenaar said, “real estate and tax breaks are a great place to start. Ideally we don’t want just a supermarket, we want to bring more businesses to Whitehall.”

Mayor Ken Bartholomew said from a village standpoint there isn’t a whole lot that can be done that hasn’t been tried already and the village can’t “just go around handing out tax breaks.”

“The big supermarkets did a marketing assessment and said you need to have 16,000 people in a certain area for it to be viable for a big supermarket, like a Price Chopper, and we don’t have that,” Bartholomew said.

Town Supervisor George Armstrong said he was unaware of any incentives the town had offered in the past, adding that he felt incentivizing a supermarket would be mainly a village issue.

“The town has always taken the position that we’d let the village take the lead,” he said. “Undoubtedly a supermarket would be within the village limits.”

Armstrong said if the village were to ever get a supermarket to express interest in locating to Whitehall, he and the rest of the town board would “like to sit down with them.”

A 2011 site location analysis was conducted by Matthew P. Casey and Associates during a feasibility study of putting a supermarket in Whitehall. While the study looked favorably on the fact that Whitehall sees substantial traffic – courtesy of Route 4 – it saw more reasons that a store couldn’t thrive.

The study points to a lack of “additional retail draw” and the fact “there are no dominant or big box retailers in the immediate area that will help support a supermarket at this location.”

As Bartholomew pointed out, the study’s main concern was the area’s population. Among the town of Whitehall, village of Whitehall, town of Dresden, town of Hampton and town of West Haven, Vt., the study determined there are only 5,896 people in the immediate range.

Not only that, there are also two supermarkets within a 15-mile radius of Whitehall – A Shaw’s in Fair Haven, Vt., and a Price Chopper in Granville. Plus there is Green Mountain Produce. Those three stores are already sharing a small market.

Bartholomew said that when Green Mountain Produce first opened in Whitehall, the state gave it a tax break as part of its “Enterprise Zone,” but that program has since expired.

“We used to have Tops and they thought maybe they could do it, but they went away because people didn’t frequent them enough to pay their expenses,” he added. “There’s a lot of expenses that go into running a supermarket.”

In the town, the village and the county, Bartholomew said, there are many minds dedicated to bringing in a supermarket, but it’s not that simple.

“Who do you give the petition to and what are they going to do with it?” Bartholomew asked. “There’s not one person on the village or town board that doesn’t want to see a supermarket in town, but how do you do it? If someone has an idea on how to get one I’ll gladly entertain it.”

The village and town have both communicated with Assemblyman Dan Stec on this issue, and while Stec sees some opportunities to incentivize it, he said it mostly “comes down to supply and demand.”

“We’re thankful to have Green Mountain,” Armstrong said. “But we could certainly use a full grocery store.”

As for Molenaar, he’s still going door-to-door with his petition.

“On Mondays, I usually spend hours out there,” he said.

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