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Editorial: Amherst's explosion of supermarkets is a healthy sign, but other neighborhoods need help

The grocery store wars have begun in earnest in Amherst, where eight chains will line a 1.5-mile stretch on or near the Niagara Falls Boulevard corridor in the town, as recently reported in The News.

It is a sign of good times when numerous retailers start elbowing each other to gain, or maintain a foothold. No need to crowd the aisles. It is an encouraging sign to watch as mainstays expand or new players enter.

Grazing through the aisles just got a little more mouth-watering as shoppers living in Amherst, or able to travel to Niagara Falls Boulevard, become the beneficiaries of a critical mass of grocers.
By the time Whole Foods Market opens it store in the Northtown Plaza next month, it will mark the area's eighth supermarket – just within that small stretch of road. Other markets adding to local flavors are Trader Joe’s and, for those seeking deep discounts, Aldi.

Grocers have been generally increasing organic and healthy options, but there’s also the nearby small natural foods store, Feel-Rite Fresh Markets. And, of course, that’s not to leave out the standbys of Wegmans and Tops and the all-in-one options of Walmart and Target.

News reporters Stephen T. Watson and Justin Trombly got at the root of grocer interest in Amherst. Colleen C. DiPirro, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, pointed to the town’s demographics with its critical mass, high average household income and education level of the residents. These all add up to desirable characteristics that draw retailers. Add in the close proximity of the University at Buffalo North Campus, and locating a bricks-and-mortar operation becomes an easy sell.

That’s true even while online shopping continues to make headway in other areas. But many people still prefer to handpick their groceries, although Dash’s Markets and Wegmans offer their own local delivery services. Plainly, there is plenty of room for innovation.

Amazon, which recently purchased Whole Foods, is associated with online shopping but also recognizes the value in bricks-and-mortar for certain retail operations, including the grocery industry. Aiming at convenience stores, it also features “Instant Pickup” points, which the online giant recently launched around five college campuses in other parts of the country. They allow shoppers to retrieve items immediately after ordering.

This is good for Amherst and those who can go there, but grocers should consider extending this feverish competition to parts of the county, particularly in the inner city, where there are food deserts. While a Tops supermarket serves Buffalo’s East Side, on Jefferson Avenue, major gaps exist in other parts of the East Side and other sections of the city. In those areas, residents lacking personal transportation depend on corner stores, stocked with processed foods and perhaps a smattering of fruits and vegetables.

Competition is good for consumers. Retailers should understand that there is room for growth in this area, and in places of need. With that, let the grocery wars begin.

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