To the Editor:
So far, the Stop & Shop expansion project seems to be flying under the radar of many people who would be concerned if they knew exactly what Stop & Shop is planning for the expansion of their Vineyard Haven store.
Stop & Shop wants to plunk a big box type of store into the middle of the Vineyard Haven waterfront. In aspect and appearance it is a type more suitable to a suburban shopping mall than to a small New England resort town. To accommodate the needs of their big box store, Stop & Shop also wants to radically reconfigure the town parking lot and traffic patterns (including effectively closing Norton Lane).
S&S has added a few ornamental gewgaws to their façade, in response to cries of pain from various quarters. But they are refusing to budge from their core plan and their insistence on having Vineyard Haven’s traffic configuration changed according to their diktat.
Since the new building was unveiled, I have sensed that the whole thing is a corporate cookie-cutter type project — and process. It is utterly inappropriate to the Vineyard Haven setting. The design concept had to have been hatched in “Supermarket Central” at a location far, far distant from Vineyard Haven. In fact, I was not far off the mark.
Stop & Shop is owned by a Netherlands-based corporation, Ahold, which is one of the largest international food retailers. Ahold owns food chains in four countries. It has a strategy of developing one format per country. Ahold’s format for its U.S. supermarkets is the “Giant Carlisle” format. Giant Carlisle is one of the supermarket chains that Ahold owns.
Ahold’s corporate strategy was stated by their COO, Sander van der Laan, in “Broadening Our Offer, Format Development.” It is to “share four format initiatives across Ahold.” For the U.S., Ahold has a “supermarket center store concept.” The strategy is to “Leverage: Giant Carlisle Center Store Layout in US” — that is, to apply their store formula nationwide. More information about S&S formats and their execution in New England — including insistence on changing local traffic patterns — can be found by doing an online search for “Stop & Shop format.”
As a corporate strategy this uniform format makes some sense and may bring advantages to S&S customers (although a number of S&S format stores are soon to be shuttered). Most of the U.S.A. supermarkets owned by Ahold are in shopping malls with large parking lots around them.
But does it make sense as a land-use planning strategy for the Vineyard Haven waterfront, the principal gateway to the Island? Should Vineyard Haven be “customized” to accommodate Stop & Shop’s Netherlands-born corporate vision? Or should Stop & Shop customize their store to accommodate the local site, the Vineyard’s actual year-round economic base, and the character and scale of the Island?
I doubt that S&S will win any industry prizes with their store design. Neither the interior nor the exterior is cutting edge in supermarket design.
I urge those interested in appropriate land-use planning and design in Vineyard Haven and on the Island to read the Ahold format strategy document, and then go to the MVC website and look at the before-and-after streetscape renderings (www.mvcommission.org/doc.php/SSTisbury-Renderings.pdf?id=4775&g=1). They give some idea of how the current S&S proposal might end up looking — minus the trees and the comfort station currently in the current town parking lot.
I think we need to broaden the discussion of what kind of S&S expansion and design would maintain the Vineyard’s special character while well serving Islanders’ and visitors’ shopping needs.
The MVC’s open hearing continues on August 29, at the Tisbury Senior Center. The Land Use Committee is also planning to discuss the S&S project at its meeting on August 19, at 5 pm, at the MVC office in Oak Bluffs (open to the public, but not for public comment).