Over the past six months or so, news that Walmart was closing a number of its Neighborhood Markets in the Denver Metro area resulted in a sigh of relief for us at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Each time, the store near our student apartments at S. Lowell Blvd and W. Bowles Ave. wasn’t on the list. In January, another store closure was announced, this time on Sheridan. Whew! Close call!
Our luck ran out though. Earlier this month we learned that the store where our students do most of their shopping would also fall under the axe, closing April 7.
The first reaction naturally was shock and disbelief. Students won’t be able to walk across the street to get their groceries anymore! That was also the response of citizens in the community, one of whom made several phone calls on our behalf. Some thought we should take it to the press, to the Mayor. We declined.
That’s because that first reaction lasted about five minutes. For some of the old hands, not much longer than a shrug. The thing is, it’s been great for our students to have Walmart’s Neighborhood Market just a few steps away for the past five years, but there were 24 years of CCB history before that when a supermarket wasn’t just across the street, and there will be decades more after April 7. Our students and alums achieve their success on the basis of skills, confidence and the belief that they can live the lives they want, and that doesn’t depend – can’t depend – on the location of one grocery store. That will never change.
“We’re teaching our students to live in the real world,” says Executive Director Julie Deden. “This is the real world.”
A grocery store closing like this can be a blow to a neighborhood, of course. Everyone in the area who relied on the store will have to adjust. There are other options open to us that are available via RTD – choices that were there before Walmart opened. Like all the rest of the Neighborhood Market shoppers, we’ll figure out the alternatives and move on. It will be all right. That’s what we teach, and that’s why our tag line is “Take Chaarge with Confidence and Self-reliance”. This is a real-world lesson in putting that tag line into practice.
When the Colorado Center for the Blind was forced in 2012 by reductions in RTD services at its former location at Mineral and Platte Canyon to find new housing for our students, it was just a happy coincidence that Walmart was building one of its first Neighborhood Markets across the street on the site of an old Albertson’s. But that wasn’t why we chose the apartments now known as the McGeorge Mountain Terrace. It was a bonus, but not a deal-maker. In fact, our students had done fine down south for years without a supermarket across the road. It was the loss of convenient transportation to get to the stores or anywhere else that forced the move. The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado protested vigorously at the loss of RTD service, but this isn’t like that situation. It might make sense to protest to a public entity like RTD for cutting service, it doesn’t make the same kind of sense to protest to keep a grocery store open that isn’t economically viable for the corporation, and especially not when there are reasonable options still available. Certainly, though our students have done the vast majority of their shopping at the Neighborhood Market, other people have to shop there too. We wouldn’t expect the store to remain open at a loss just to serve blind people.
In the past five years Walmart has truly been a neighbor and a partner, donating five shopping carts at their opening for the use of our students, cash for various fund-raisers, and especially providing gracious shopping assistance and service to our students. This week, a couple of the store’s employees stopped by to talk with Center staff about the possible fallout for our students. We appreciate that kind of concern from our neighbors. And we send it right back – we wish all the employees of the Neighborhood Market on W. Bowles Ave. who will be displaced by the closure all the best. Where are they going? Talk about real-world!