By Marjorie Nesin Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — Rectangular pieces of paper advertising a survey are neatly piled beside cash registers and in the centers of tables at the Whistlestop Mall stores and shops.
These are the kinds of papers usually ignored or recycled before read, but the title at the top — “A Grocery Store for Rockport” — is making most Rockporters stop, and about 1,000 have paused long enough to take the online survey, created and distributed by Jay Smith and his family, who own the mall property and the site of the owner of the former IGA grocery store.
Smith said the survey has given his family a chance to communicate with area people and hear their opinions. Smith said the survey is targeted at everyone in the Cape Ann community, not just Rockporters.
“We certainly would like to see it (the IGA) fill with a business that would benefit the community,” Smith said. “The survey kind of lets us see the mood of what people tend to like in the area.”
An alcohol license, which the town has applied for, could be available by January after the legislation passes in the Statehouse and the town takes a ballot vote, according to Town Administrator Linda Sanders. Smith said the license could encourage the grocery chain vendors with whom he’s discussed the site.
“There’s some very respectable people in the local industry and a little bit further afield as well,” Smith said. “In any business, the more product lines you can sell successfully, then the safer the business is.”
Smith’s survey asks people about their household grocery budget, where they usually shop and what qualities they value in a grocery store.
One question likely to draw a near-unanimous answer asks, “Do you think that Rockport needs a grocery store?”
Since the IGA closed in January 2011, after serving Rockport for nearly 40 years, Rockporters have traveled out of town to get even the most basic of groceries.
For some, like mother of three Carrie Vanderpool, the trip to Gloucester to pick up a forgotten ingredient or a jug of milk requires planning and sometimes is just not worth it.
“It’s tough going out of town every time,” Vanderpool said. “You have to strap the kids in the car, take the extra 15-minute ride over there.”
Vanderpool said the Rockport store location would be great for her, since her Carrie’s Barber Shop is right up the row, but she said a specialty store, like Crosby’s Marketplace, Whole Foods Market, or Trader Joe’s could draw in customers from out of town, too.
A group of Rockporters and a couple of Gloucesterites who meet at Rockport’s Dunkin’ Donuts every afternoon sat at the restaurant’s roundtable Thursday, a green rectangular survey advertisement in the middle of the group.
Rockporter Steve Crowell said alcohol sales could bring customers, but he said prepared foods at the convenient location, with low prices, would also attract him and others who live at Millbrook Park.
“It would make a big difference, especially where we live,” Crowell said. “It’s handy.”
The group also emphasized the importance of food quality. Henry Koski, a retired longtime employee of Crosby’s in Manchester, said he still shops at the store, not because of his prior employment there, but because he trusts the quality.
“It would be nice and convenient for us as long as it’s a convenient grocery store with good prices,” said Nick Barletta, a former town selectmen. “I think it would go over well with people.”
Along with the patrons, Whistlestop Mall businesses are cheering for a grocer to fill the storefront, too.
Crackerjacks, a store selling a variety of crafty goods, fun toys and kitchen supplies, is situated toward the end of the mall, just before the empty store that was the IGA. Employees said that when IGA closed, fewer cars came by.
“We lost a lot of business when they closed,” employee Sarah Enos said.
“It would be wonderful if a store was here, traffic would pick up a bit,” employee Lisa Littlefield added.
Those interested can take the survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HSZV637.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.