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NEWTON

City's grocery options shrink

Omni's closing leaves only 6

If you are shopping for psychotherapy, Newton is the place to go: It has some 300 licensed psychologists, according to state records.

But if you're shopping for food, especially if you live south of Route 9, you may be in for a bit of a drive. Five years ago, a Shop & Stop store closed in Newton Highlands. And with the imminent closing of Omni Foods, in Chestnut Hill, this city of more than 80,000 people will be down to six supermarkets.

OK, that may be mixing apples and oranges, but the point is, there aren't a lot of places to buy them.

"I am furious. This is the only place I shop," said Helen Taylor of Newton Centre, who added that she has patronized Omni Foods since it opened 13 years ago.

"I seem to find a market when I need one, but I do hear there should be another one," said Cheryl Lappin , alderwoman from Ward 8 , where Omni is located.

Omni owner Suren Avedisian said his lease is about to expire and the store could close as soon as this week.

Avedisian owns two other supermarkets, in Weston and Meredith, N.H. , with his father, Jack .

The younger Avedisian said he would like to reopen in Newton but has not found a location.

With Omni gone, the city will have two Whole Foods, on Walnut Street in Newton Highlands and on Washington Street in Newtonville; two Shaw's, on Austin Street in Newtonville and on Commonwealth Avenue in Auburndale; Trader Joe's on Washington Street in West Newton; and Star Market in Chestnut Hill.

That Star Market could be temporarily out of commission because of construction, however, if plans to add a second story survive a legal challenge.

Another grocer could move into the Omni area. It's the site of the proposed Chestnut Hill Square, a complex of high-rise condominiums and stores. Developer Stephen Karp has said he will include "a lifestyle grocer" -- probably a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, although Avedisian has said he would like to reopen there. The project has yet to be approved by the state or city, and is years away from completion.

Leonard Gentile , alderman at large for Ward 4, said he does not believe its loss will be a hardship.

"I think, fortunately, we still have a number of choices throughout the city or just over the line," said Gentile . "I don't see it as anything that's alarming."

Indeed, Watertown has two Stop & Shop markets, and Needham and Wellesley sport a Roche Bros. Other Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are also well represented nearby.

But that is not enough for some residents, such as Kristen Norman of Newton Centre, who said city officials are encouraging the wrong kind of development.

"They just keep shutting down stores and building housing," said Norman, who stood in the Omni parking lot last week with a full shopping cart.

Many residents have an ambivalent attitude toward stores -- they'd like them, but not in their back yard.

Consider the fight a decade ago over a proposed Super Stop & Shop on Needham Street, which included a bid to widen the road. Aldermen eventually denied a special permit.

Store officials fought the decision up to the state Supreme Judicial Court, where they lost. The area now has an Avalon Bay apartment house.

More recently, some aldermen tried to nix the plans for the Newton Trader Joe's.

Gentile said, for him, it was another of the "over-my-dead-body" squabbles that he undertook on behalf of the surrounding neighborhood. Gentile and the neighbors lost.

Along with a desire to protect neighbors, Newton is also short on the football-field-sized plots needed to develop a supermarket, not to mention room for customer and employee parking.

Moreover, Newton residents value the aesthetics of their quaint village centers, which include few big-box stores.

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