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As A Possible Stop & Shop Strike Looms, 'Food Deserts' Appear Vulnerable03:01
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A Stop & Shop supermarket in Pembroke, Mass. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
A Stop & Shop supermarket in Pembroke, Mass. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

Sabrina Pedro pushes her young son in a stroller along the short walk home from the Stop & Shop in Grove Hall. It's the only supermarket in her neighborhood, which straddles Roxbury and Dorchester.

Hanging from the stroller's handle, in a plastic bag, she has what she calls "tonight's dinner: lasagna, milk, some carrots."

A Stop & Shop strike could make errands like this one harder.

"If they were to go on strike, I'd go — there's a Star Market right in JFK," Pedro says, referring to the JFK Red Line stop in Dorchester. It's only a couple of miles away, but Pedro doesn't own a car, meaning she'd have to make a cumbersome journey aboard bus and subway, with a stroller and groceries.

The possibility that 31,000 Stop & Shop workers could strike is worrying some of the grocery chain's customers who live in "food deserts" — places that already have limited access to supermarkets or other sources of fresh food.

Contract talks continue Thursday, with the Quincy-based company and its New England labor unions at an impasse over health care and retirement benefits.

Stop & Shop says it would use temporary workers to keep stores open, in the event of a strike.

But crossing a picket line for a loaf of bread could be uncomfortable or impractical for shoppers with children or mobility impairments.

And going to Stop & Shop during a strike wouldn't feel right to some longtime customers like Peetha Brandon, who is loyal to the Grove Hall store because many of her neighbors work there.

"It's always Stop & Shop," Brandon says of her shopping routine. "'Cause this is where we live, in our neighborhood, this is where we shop at."

The situation in Grove Hall is not unique. Six of the 10 Massachusetts cities with the worst grocery access are cities where a Stop & Shop is one of few options, according to the nonprofit Massachusetts Public Health Association. They include Springfield, Brockton, Everett, Revere, Chicopee and Lynn, where a Shaw's supermarket closed just last month.

Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the public health association, worries that a Stop & Shop strike could hurt Lynn residents who already face a dwindling grocery supply.

"It really does have implications for access to healthy food for the low-income and older-adult residents who live in that part of the city," Pavlos says. "And it's something that we're definitely thinking about and talking with our local community partners about."

Healthy food isn't the only consideration. Nancy Smith, an older woman without a car, says she does most of her food shopping at Save-A-Lot, a discount grocer in the Washington Park Mall. But she goes to the Grove Hall Stop & Shop to redeem bottles and cans, which she says she can't do at Save-A-Lot.

Customers who depend on their local Stop & Shop to exchange bottles, buy groceries or use other services are hoping the company and its workers can make a deal to avoid a work stoppage.

This segment aired on March 14, 2019.

Earlier Coverage:

Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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