Star Market to close at the beginning of February

Cambridge City Council to ask lease owner to lease space to another grocer

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Star Market's store front. The inconvenient location might have been part of the reason why the supermarket decided to close.
Karleigh Moore–The Tech
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The meat section of Star Market is nearly empty after store announces closure and sales, amid a severe winter storm.
Karleigh Moore–The Tech

Star Market, the grocery store behind Random Hall that many MIT students rely on, is closing at the beginning of February. There is not a new tenant lined up for the space at this time, Jan Devereux, Vice Mayor of the City of Cambridge, told The Tech in a phone call Thursday morning.

Denise Simmons, Cambridge City Councillor, put an order on the Policy Order and Resolution List for the council’s Monday, Jan. 8 meeting to order that the city manager talk to Forest City Realty Trust, the company that leases the property, about replacing Star Market with Market Basket or another grocery store offering similar variety and affordability.

Devereux said that she will meet with Jay Kiely, Senior Property Manager at Forest City, and Sarah Gallop, Co-Director of the Office of Government and Community Relations at MIT, to discuss leasing the space to another affordable grocery store.

Forest City developed the Court, the area between Central and Kendall Squares, starting in the 1980s. Forest City leases the site that Star Market currently occupies, although MIT owns the property. Part of Forest City and MIT’s original agreement with the city of Cambridge was the inclusion of a supermarket as a community benefit. Simmons intends to see that the Forest City and MIT now “keep their promise, not to say that they intend not to,” she said during the council meeting.

“Given that Star struggled over the years, I’m not sure it will end up being a retail use, but it’s certainly something we will consider,” Michael Farley, Senior Vice President of Asset Management at Forest City, told The Tech in a phone call Friday afternoon. “We’ll evaluate all the options that are available … We’ll look at retailers as well as potentially office tenants and decide what the best use is.”

Farley pushed back on the idea that there are no comparable alternatives to Star Market with respect to variety and price in the area, stating  “there are other grocery stores in the area that have opened over the last several years” and that those stores would adequately serve the community’s needs if another grocer did not replace Star Market.

All members of the Cambridge City Council who spoke on this subject at the council meeting, however, held that replacing Star Market is essential.

“The neighborhood that [Star Market is] situated in — Cambridgeport, the Port, and Riverside — has a high concentration of residents that don’t have cars,” Councillor Alanna Mallon said.

One councillor suggested that the replacement supermarket be in a different location within the area. “I think a different location within the area might make more sense, realistically,” said Councillor Dennis Carlone. Carlone stated that supermarkets to whom he has spoken  they need a “relationship to parking and … a high-density residential base.” Carlone and the majority of the council who voiced opinions felt that Star Market’s second floor location was to its disadvantage.

Mayor Marc McGovern and Devereux suggested the possibility that the new supermarket have a smaller footprint. McGovern said that Kiely had told him earlier on Monday that “[Forest City is] looking to ‘gut’ the space” so that people can envision it differently than how it’s laid out now, — that Star Market is huge, — and maybe it’s a supermarket with a different footprint. We’re certainly seeing Target and other places that are adapting to more urban spaces, which are smaller.”

Devereux has also been in contact with Michael Monestime, Executive Director of the Central Square Business Association, about maintaining grocery options in the area. She said that Monastime is in contact with bfresh, a healthy and affordable grocery chain that is looking to open a location in Cambridge.

Whether a new grocery store takes Star Market’s place depends “on the lease terms and whether Forest City and MIT are amenable to working with the community to potentially make a favorable lease term, whether it requires some subsidy … to make it happen,” Devereux said.

Gallop did not comment on MIT’s plans, citing that Forest City manages the leasing of the space in an email to The Tech Thursday evening.

News of Star Market’s impending closure circulated on student mailing lists Wednesday night. Many students were alarmed and worried about where they would go for groceries; others seemed satisfied with other existing options. Some suggested other local stores and discussed the pros and cons of each option including distance from campus, store prices, and variety of products available.

“It's a shame to lose such a convenient location for shopping, and I can imagine the closure will make cooking for yourself more of a hassle,” Matthew Luerman ’19 wrote in an email to The Tech Thursday evening.

“Like all retailers, we’re constantly evaluating the performance of our portfolio of stores. Closing an underperforming store is always a tough decision,” Star Market External Communication & Community Relations Manager Teresa Edington told The Tech in an email Thursday evening.

“There have always been complaints that it wasn’t very visible from the street because of signage and being upstairs makes it less obvious that there’s a grocery there,” Devereux said.

The Vice Mayor seemed hopeful that another grocer would take Star Market’s place. “Forest City [oversaw] a huge development, and it has really activated that [area] ... and they have lots of residents and employees that work in all the buildings, so I would think it would be in their interest as well [to have another grocery store take Star Market’s space],” Devereux said.

Suzy Nelson, MIT Vice President and Dean for Student Life, wrote to The Tech Thursday evening that she is “reaching out to the leaders of the Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council so that we can work together to minimize the impact [of the closure] on our students.”

“MIT currently offers free shuttles to Target in Cambridge, Costco in Everett, Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive, and Whole Foods on River Street during the weekends,” Nelson wrote.

Star Market will relocate its employees at the Central Square location to other Star Market branches, Devereux said.

The company announced the closing Dec. 29, Edington wrote.

Editor’s note: The Tech will update this story as more information becomes available.

Sharon Chao and Karleigh Moore contributed reporting.

Update: This article was updated on Friday 1/5/18 at 1:15 p.m. to reflect new information from a phone call with Michael Farley, Senior Vice President of Asset Management at Forest City.

Update: This article was updated on Wednesday 1/10/18 at 11:05 p.m. to reflect new information from a Cambridge city council meeting Monday and to remove a paragraph on awaiting a response from Jay Kiely, Senior Property Manager at Forest City. Kiely responded, directing further questions to Farley.