Jim and Debbie Burk strolled back to their home Friday from Gregg’s Market Place in Marathon.
Stopping by for some groceries is easy for them as they can walk to and from the store in less than five minutes.
Grocery shopping is about to get tougher; the store is closing June 12 after almost 50 years in business, according to a Facebook post this week by the store, leaving the closest store more than eight miles away.
“It was certainly not an easy decision to make,” the post read. “The Gregg family wishes the Marathon community and its employees the best.”
The store in Whitney Point, also owned by the Gregg family, will remain open the post said, but a representative from the Marathon store declined comment.
“They have been an asset to the community in a number of different ways,” said village Mayor Bill McGovern. He noted the store donated food for events in Marathon over the years.
With the store closing next week, residents will have to look for groceries in Whitney Point or Cortland, McGovern said.
For people like the Burks, who have a car, that isn’t much of an issue, with Whitney Point being about eight miles away and Cortland around 19.
But those who don’t will likely have to find other ways of getting to stores.
“They would have to rely on some type of public transportation,” like a bus or calling a cab, McGovern said.
McGovern said members from the village board of trustees have been reaching out to other municipalities to see about ways to remedy the issue. Further, officials have been looking at attracting another grocery store, but declined to give details.
Questions about access to grocery stores in rural areas aren’t isolated to just Central New York, said Susan Williams, the assistant director of Seven Valleys Health Coalition.
“It’s a big problem,” she said. “Grocery stores have been closing all over the country.” The village does have a Dollar General, which while providing some small food items, doesn’t provide full groceries. Additionally, after dollar stores open, sales to local grocery stores can drop by about 30%, according to a report by the Institute of Self Reliance.
The coalition has some short-term solutions to help people who don’t have a car get groceries, she said, but nothing long-term.
First, the coalition offers a Supports for Health program that helps with issues such as food insecurity and access to transportation by providing referral-based subsidized transportation for needs such as grocery shopping.
The Fruit and Vegetables Prescription program also helps get fresh produce from a local community-supported agriculture program to people with chronic disease or conditions, Williams added.
These, though, are not long-term, sustainable plans for people, she said. The coalition doesn’t have an answer but will be discussing Marathon’s problem in an upcoming meeting.
Preventing the problem of inaccessibility to grocery stores in rural areas will need to be changed on a greater, societal level, Williams said.
“It’s a real systemic problem,” she said.