PAUL BASS / newhavenindependent.org
Victoria Ferraro with staffer Aniello Furino outside the market on Nov. 16 (PAUL BASS / newhavenindependent.org)
JONATHAN L. WHARTON

A couple of weeks ago, the family owners of Ferraro’s Market announced they are closing their New Haven Grand Avenue flagship store on New Year’s Eve. I imagine few, especially outside the New Haven area, know the Italian-American grocery store that has been around for decades. But Ferraro’s has been a mainstay for generations in an ever-changing city.

For those who do not understand how local and significant Ferraro’s is to the New Haven community, it’s equivalent to my West Hartford hometown’s Crown Market, where shoppers find myriad Kosher foods especially after their recent renovation. I grew up near Crown and my father shopped there frequently for fresh breads, pickles, and deli meats. When I first moved to New Haven, I was surprised by the variety of Italian items and fresh cut meats at Ferraro’s. It was as local as one could get and many Wooster Square, Fair Haven, and downtown residents shopped there.

Considering New Haven’s few grocery store choices, having a specialty store like Ferraro’s is a rarity in a Connecticut city. Suburbanites often take for granted something as simple as grocery shopping since few stores are in urban areas. Technically, Connecticut’s cities and rural areas have been classified as “food deserts” where grocery stores and fresh produce options are over a mile away from shoppers’ residences. This has been a tri-state area policy concern for generations, but some cities have been doing a better job at addressing food deserts than others.

I actually wrote about food deserts in my first book when I lived in Newark. Then-Mayor Cory Booker advocated for a downtown grocery store. Living in downtown Newark, I often had to get rides to another town in a nearby county for grocery shopping. Several years later, a Whole Foods was built, partly because of city and state policy incentives and a newly constructed Prudential Insurance tower across the street.

Similarly, some Connecticut cities have tried to lure supermarkets to their downtowns. Stamford tried with Fairway Market, but they closed recently. And Hartford has been struggling for years to attract a grocery store near Dunkin Donuts stadium, which was part of the original Downtown North plans.

Yet New Haven already had a longstanding grocery store near downtown and within walking distance of two significant neighborhoods. As a former City Plan commissioner, I proudly supported the Commercial Gateway District rezoning changes so more development could revitalize blocks surrounding Ferraro’s. Sadly, the measure failed to pass the Board of Alders and Grand Avenue remains underutilized. Even worse, crime has increased and suburban shoppers are not frequenting the store as often. Add the pandemic, and Ferraro’s owners’ had few options.

Interestingly, North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda wanted a Ferraro’s Market in his town. After all, nearby Madison has a store location on Route 1. I know Freda’s passion for the shopping experience as we bumped into each other at Milford’s Whole Foods last year and we spoke for nearly a half-hour about grocery shopping. Anyone who knows Freda recognizes that his town’s commercial development incentives have led to significant growth, especially with a proposed train station.  The timing seems to be ripe then for Ferraro’s owners to relocate to the Universal Drive shopping district located conveniently off I-91.

Ferraro’s leaving for the suburbs is an unfortunate loss for New Haven. But it is also a reminder for city and Connecticut officials that food deserts are an ongoing issue. Unfortunately, I am not expecting New Haven to reconsider commercial corridor zoning along Grand Street anytime soon, as it was politicized as a gentrification initiative. But I hope officials would find pathways to have a grocery store on Grand Avenue including the possibility of a Meat King Market to replace Ferraro’s.

More importantly, I would hope that state officials recognize the real need to address food deserts in communities like Wooster Square and downtown Hartford.

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is associate professor of political science and urban affairs and the School of Graduate and Professional Studies Interim Associate Dean at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. Wharton is a former chairman of the New Haven Republican Town Committee and Connecticut Republican State Central Committee member.

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