Five small groceries on or near the Outer Cape have closed in the past few seasons, limiting off-season food access for local residents. Bradford Natural, a Provincetown health food store, closed most recently this past May, preceded by Phoenix Fruit in Orleans, Nauset Market in Eastham, Soul Food Natural Food Market in Wellfleet, and the South Wellfleet General Store.
With Cumberland Farms in Wellfleet preparing to close its doors in November for renovations in anticipation of a spring reopening with expanded grocery and hot food options, access to food for Outer Cape residents — particularly after standard business hours — is about to shrink even further.
Data from the Mass. Food Trust Program, a partnership between state agencies and various nonprofits around the commonwealth, highlight Eastham and Wellfleet as having too few grocery stores and healthy food options. More than 2.8 million people statewide lack access to groceries, according to the organization, which defines “grocery stores” as “chain and independent markets with annual food sales of $2 million or more.”
“The situation is pressing,” says a statement from the Food Trust. “Residents in these communities suffer from disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases. Communities without local grocery stores also lack the economic revitalization and quality jobs that these stores and other food enterprises can provide.”
Ellery Althaus and Claire Adams run Salty Market in North Truro. “It is shocking since we opened [in 2013] how many small, market-style operations have closed,” says Adams. “I remember we were opening at the same time as the South Wellfleet General Store. [When they closed] it was a reality check of how hard this business is and how much we are not moving in the right direction out here in terms of small markets.”
Economics seems to be driving the closures. The former Phoenix Fruit building at 14 Cove Road in Orleans was demolished and the lot has since been developed with seven town houses, each listed for sale at $795,000.
The buildings that housed the South Wellfleet General Store on Route 6 and Soul Food Natural Market on Bank Street in Wellfleet were both slated to reopen as marijuana shops, though Nature’s Alternative, the company planning to locate at the former South Wellfleet “Genny” has since changed the location of its host agreement.
“How the cannabis industry might affect local food access is interesting,” says Dave DeWitt, who with a group of other farmers in Wellfleet and Truro is working to form the state’s first craft cannabis cooperative. “None of wants to stop growing vegetables, and we want to increase production. This crop may give us a little bit more economic empowerment so that we can expand our already existing farms.” DeWitt says the High Dune Craft Cooperative farmers are planning to sell their cannabis products locally, including at the the Grateful Mind, the pot shop planned to replace Soul Food Natural Market.
Althaus and Adams say they see chain businesses like the expanded Cumberland Farms in Eastham and Wellfleet playing a role, too.
“I imagine the ‘Super Cumby’s’ in Eastham must have been a real blow to the South Wellfleet General Store and Nauset Market,” says Adams. “Cumby’s has a legitimate lunch rush. The cheapness and the convenience are appealing for people in the winter, and I get that. But we can’t even try to compete with their prices.”
Salty Market will close for the winter for the first time this year, from Jan. 1 to the end of March. “It was a really hard decision,” says Althaus. There simply has not been enough business during that time of the year to make staying open viable financially, the owners say.
“Telling our staff was really difficult, but people have been super understanding,” says Althaus. “The most common reaction was ‘That’s really sad and disappointing, but I’m also not here in January, February, and March,’ so they see the situation.”
Althaus and Adams say many people have suggested they stay open as a market but close their deli to save on the cost of perishable items. But that equation is not as simple as it seems.
“The deli actually helps us control food waste in a lot of ways,” says Adams. “We use our leftover rotisserie chickens for sandwiches and the bones for stocks and make bagel chips out of our bagels — we really try to use up everything.” Even nonperishables can go to waste in the winter, they say, as many items have a six-month shelf life.
“It’s frustrating to see even your canned goods go out of code,” says Althaus.
Althaus grew up next door to the building, which operated year-round as Dutra’s market during his childhood. “It was always our goal to be year-round,” he says. “We have a very loyal following of tradesmen and town employees and teachers who come for lunch or our wine tastings. And it’s still our hope that there’s a way we can go in the opposite direction. Each season gives you a blank slate, and we’ll revisit it every year to see if we can make it work for winter.”
The following independently owned grocery stores remain open all year on the Outer Cape:
467 Commercial St.
Far Land Provisions
150 Bradford St.
East End Market
212 Bradford St.
295 West Main St.
2475 U.S. Route 6