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Petition drive calls for grocery store downtown

May 31, 1997

By VANDANA SINHA

Staff Writer

Jim Peterson is tired of taking the $9 taxi ride to the store for bread and milk. He doesn't like paying more than $3 for a 5-pound bag of sugar at a convenience store.

And, he says, he is sick of being ignored.

An activist for the homeless, Peterson has taken on another cause, this one for the senior citizens, downtown residents and himself. He is circulating a petition with the aim of having a grocery store move into Hagerstown's downtown.

Since March 1995, when Martin's grocery store moved from the Zayre Shopping Center to a spot a mile and a half out on the Dual Highway, downtown residents have complained that not having a grocery store within walking distance is inconvenient and expensive.

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Peterson, 40, of 119 East Ave., plans to present a petition with at least 3,000 signatures to the Hagerstown City Council at its June 10 work session, requesting support to move a grocery store downtown.

"My wife and I got sick and tired of taking a cab to get groceries," he said. "If I can get 3,000 names on this petition, maybe that will give (the City Council) more incentive to do something."

In the first two days of his venture, Peterson said he collected about 250 signatures.

"A couple people have even hugged me and said that it's about time someone did something like this," he said. "It's been so easy to get names."

Bringing a grocery store to the downtown area might be a corporate, not a government issue, said Councilman Lewis Metzner. "The question is, will the private retailer move downtown. There is very little we can do," he said.

Metzner said he supports bringing a supermarket downtown, and suggested that Peterson address this petition "to the grocery store, not the government."

Mayor-elect Robert Bruchey said he plans to be aggressive in pushing for an area market.

"As far as I'm concerned, this petition is just more ammunition to help me in my strive to get a grocery store downtown," Bruchey said.

The issue, he said, already is on his agenda of things he wants to discuss with City Council members in an effort to help restore the appearance of downtown Hagerstown.

"How beautiful can downtown be with all these vacant buildings?" Peterson asked.

Having a grocery store downtown not only would draw more people, but would boost sales in surrounding shops, raise the city's property tax revenue, attract additional businesses, hike employment and enhance the overall economy, he said.

"I think it might pick up sales around here a bit," said Beanie Pepple, 29, an employee of Bentley's Bagels on Washington Avenue. "We've got to get something to draw people in. Once we do that, we've got it made."

As for the larger chains' intentions, "I can't imagine a grocery store not wanting to come down here. It's a chance to make money, and that's what businesses want," Peterson said.

That is a major concern for Councilman-elect Alfred Boyer, who said that a petition full of signatures cannot ensure a grocery store full of customers.

Boyer said he would endorse the measure and help make the necessary enquiries if Peterson brings the proposal before the council.

Martin's spokesman Richard Pasewark said officials of the grocery store chain "are always open to opportunities when presented to us if they can make the store work," Pasewark said. "That means if the store can make money."

"We need to determine whether people downtown would support a store there," Boyer said. "The biggest problem I could foresee is that the store would not have adequate shoppers to make it feasible or profitable."

But Peterson said he doesn't buy that claim. "If you stood on the street corner and asked everyone what is the number one thing you need to come down here, everybody would answer the same thing - a grocery store," he said.

Some downtown residents voiced wholehearted support for a local grocery store.

"We need a grocery store here," said Phyllis Johnson, 68, of Potomac Towers who said she must juggle her grocery bags on the bus because she cannot afford to take a cab. "If I didn't have to take the bus, I could take more (groceries) home at a time."

"There should be a supermarket close to us old people - we can't get around much anymore," said Betty Lapole, 72, who has lived in Potomac Towers for 11 years. "Everybody said they wish there was a grocery store a lot closer."

"A lot of people here would go to the store if we had one. I know they would," Johnson said.

"I would go if a grocery store was closer," said another Potomac Towers resident, Evva Jones, 88, who said she asks her granddaughter to take her shopping.

Forced to take the bus, Robin Wolfinger, 26, of 114 W. Franklin St., said she must take her 9-month-old baby boy on each trip to the uptown grocery store.

"They don't think about the people who have to walk," said Wolfinger who said she and most of her friends would frequent a grocery store if one were nearby.

Peterson's wife, Becky, 28, said walking to a grocery store would be more desirable than taking a bus with her two boys, ages 3 and 4.

"Change doesn't just happen, someone's got to create it," Peterson said. "And I can't just wait for the city government to decide what to do."

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