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    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    No more Band-Aids on New London's food insecurity

    I work in New London, but I don't live in New London. I don't even live in New London County. But I would seriously consider moving here if the downtown had a Stop & Shop and a Starbucks. And I don't think I'm asking for too much. I need proximity to a grocery store and want the occasional overpriced PSL.

    I don't need granite countertops, stainless steel appliances or storage for my nonexistent kayak, but I do need Honey Nut Cheerios and its accompanying gallon of milk at a reasonable price and close to home.

    I don't need a fancy, niche grocery store. I'm not asking for Trader Joe's, Whole Foods or Stew Leonard's. I certainly don't want anything particularly pricey. But, I do ask for the average supermarket with fresh produce, butcher/deli counter, dairy products and dry goods (a pharmacy would be amazing). I want a Stop & Shop.

    Some say there is a food desert in New London. Some say there is even "food apartheid," which is considered worse because it means the unequal access to food in the city is a systemic problem.

    The solution to this issue is a full-service grocery store, not "snack beds." Give everyone in downtown New London regardless of their income dignified and consistent access to purchase the same food.

    And yes, I recognize the city has a ShopRite, an NSA Supermarket and Fiddleheads, but clearly those options, perhaps because of their locations or selections, are inadequate if we have residents living under "food apartheid."

    And no, Stop & Shop is not paying me to write about them. I mention Stop & Shop because it is familiar to most people. It has name recognition in Connecticut. It comes with a built-in fan base, which would add to its likelihood of success as a business in downtown New London.

    Why doesn't New London, a city of more than 27,000 inhabitants, have a grocery store in its downtown? Especially, when the city is experiencing a mini-boom in housing with the anticipated hiring of more than 5,700 workers at Electric Boat in Groton. Where does the city expect these potential residents to buy groceries? Does the city expect its new residents to eat out every night while at the same time paying market rate rents? That's unrealistic, inconvenient and financially irresponsible.

    And I hear the same remarks when I bring this issue up in the newsroom: There's not enough room for a Stop & Shop; no interest from grocery store owners; lack of potential customers; and no space for parking. I respectfully disagree. We don't have to reinvent the wheel here. Other cities have figured out how to have grocery stores in them.

    For space, we may need to get creative with design and realize that a grocery store in downtown New London will not have a traditional layout. I used to live in Chicago, and there I frequented shops and grocery stores with more than one floor. I rolled my shopping cart into an elevator as needed. Some stores had multiple escalators; one for shoppers and one for shopping carts. You rode up the escalator next to your cart.

    As for customers and parking, now is the time to bring a grocery store to downtown New London because of the myriad ways to shop - in-person, drive-up, delivery and shipping - that are available because of online and mobile options. Technology would help alleviate traffic and increase patronage. City garages can offer free or discounted parking with a store receipt. Maybe public transportation could come up with a similar offer with lower fares. And people who are able to walk can always hoof it with their collapsible shopping trolley.

    Lastly, a grocery store would also create jobs and generate tax revenue for the city.

    If city officials can figure out how to bring a massive $300 million offshore wind farm to State Pier and the $150 million Coast Guard museum to New London, they can figure out how to bring a Stop & Shop, and even a Starbucks, to downtown.

    Robin Watson is a multimedia copy editor at The Day.

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