Supermarket plan bags some skepticism

Posted Jan. 26, 2009, at 9:16 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:47 a.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Lilea and Richard Simis may have a better idea than anyone of how a new Hannaford supermarket in the local village of Town Hill might affect their lives.

The Scarborough-based supermarket chain announced Friday that it plans to build a 35,000-square-foot store directly across Route 102 from their business, Town Hill Market. The new supermarket, unlike Hannaford’s existing 24,000-square-foot store in downtown Bar Harbor, would have a pharmacy and carry a wider selection of all-natural and organic products, the company indicated in a press release.

The Simises bought their market 12 years ago. Over the years, they have made several changes to the business, the most significant being an addition they built in 2007 so they could sell more environmentally friendly household items.

On Monday, they said they will have to make more changes to their business if they hope to survive being across the street from a much bigger competitor. They emphasized that they are trying to keep as positive an outlook on the situation as they can.

“Their organic section is the size of our store,” Richard Simis said of Hannaford’s larger store in Ellsworth. “We’re not closing. We’ll have to alter our game plan.”

According to local residents and town officials, the supermarket would be built on a 15-acre lot where Aquarius Antiques is currently located. Hannaford has indicated it hopes to break ground on the project later this year.

Wythe Ingebritson, secretary of the West Eden Village Improvement Society, said Monday that he hopes Hannaford will meet with the VIS to discuss the project. He said he spent much of the weekend fielding phone calls from neighbors who expressed concern that the supermarket could negatively affect Town Hill’s rural char-acter and traffic patterns.

“Certainly, from the conversations that I’ve had, there is concern in the community about the appropriateness” of the project, he said. “It seems like something that’s out of scale or inappropriate for that neighborhood.”

According to the town’s official online assessing database, the largest commercial structure currently in Town Hill is EBS building supplies. The EBS building is approximately 18,000 square feet, about half the size that the supermarket would be.

Michael Norton, a Hannaford spokesman, said Monday that the company is willing to consider the community’s concerns as the project moves through the permitting process. He said Hannaford has set its sights on Town Hill because it is a good location on Mount Desert Island to serve island residents who otherwise might do their shopping in Ellsworth.

“We see an opportunity for a more convenient shopping location,” Norton said.

Bar Harbor Planner Anne Krieg said Monday that the town first learned of Hannaford’s plans on Friday, the same day the company issued a press release about its plans. Krieg said she, too, fielded a lot of comments over the weekend about what the impact of the project might be.

“There is a lot of fear [in the community] and understandable fear,” the planner said. “People are afraid of the scale of the building and of the economic impact” on local businesses.

Aaron Gray, who with his wife co-owns Pine Tree Market in the village of Northeast Harbor, said they were unhappy with news of a larger store being built eight miles away.

“It’s hard enough as it is being a year-round business, especially in Northeast Harbor,” Gray said. “We’re a dying breed. We’re going to do the best that we can and go forward.”

The Simises said their bigger concern is about how Hannaford’s plans will affect the neighborhood as a whole, not just their livelihoods.

Norton denied that Hannaford was reacting to plans by Wal-Mart to build a 200,000-square-foot supercenter in Ellsworth, but Lilea Simis suggested Hannaford’s announcement was a domino in Wal-Mart’s plans.

“I’m afraid of what comes next,” she said. “It’s definitely going to take away the small village feel.”

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