THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

After 86 years, Reading grocery to close its doors

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / November 20, 2008
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READING - For a half-century, Bill Pirie has headed to Atlantic Food Mart to shop for his family.

"I know all the people by name," the 86-year-old said yesterday of the supermarket staff. "It's done nice. I'm sorry to see it go."

Pirie is one of many area residents and employees expressing sadness that the Atlantic, owned by the same family for 86 years, will soon be closing its doors.

"I think it's a sin. First, it puts people out of work," Fred Boni said after shopping at the Haven Street fixture along with his 9-year-old daughter, Kristina. "But it's a great store. I can be in and out of there in 8 minutes."

Owner Arnold Rubin told the Reading Daily Times Chronicle that escalating energy costs, the loss of about 20 percent of his customer base to other supermarkets, and his inability as the operator of just one store to spread increased costs across a chain have combined to force him to close the store.

Rubin did not respond to an in-store request or to repeated messages for an interview.

In the past year, Market Basket and Stop & Shop have opened stores in Reading, eliminating the Atlantic as the only supermarket in town, residents said.

Pirie said he saw a sharp decline in the number of customers on Saturday mornings - the day he sets aside to buy his meat for the week - after the new supermarkets opened. But, he said, the number of customers appeared to have rebounded recently.

According to the store's website, George Rubin purchased a meat market called Atlantic Butchers of New England in 1922. The store was then just 1,500 square feet, but under his son, Sidney, and then his grandson and current owner, Arnold Rubin, the store has been expanded and renovated seven times, the last time in 1998.

Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner said Rubin has been a strong supporter of the town over the years, frequently donating money and goods to a wide range of community groups.

"As a community, we are sad to see them go," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. "They were always terrific to the community."

More than 100 people will be out of work, including Lois Jarema. A Wakefield resident, Jarema, 60, said she is a retired federal employee who has worked at the Atlantic for the past 22 months.

"It's a loss of a job, loss of friends, loss of good customers," she said, after ending her shift yesterday afternoon. "It's the closeness. It's a family, and you know, that's important."

Susan Fiorello, who contacted the Globe about the closure, said yesterday that she has lived in town for 23 years and has shopped at the Atlantic for just as long. She also does her banking at the Eastern Bank branch inside the store.

She wished residents did more to keep the big supermarkets out of town, Fiorello said, and she and others will soon miss the store, its employees, and Rubin and his philanthropic ways.

"It's a sad thing. He's always been generous to the town," she said. "It's just going to be a huge loss for the town."

Fiorello said she shopped at Market Basket just once and that prices there seemed lower than those at Atlantic.

"It is cheaper, but I would rather spend a couple of extra dollars and be loyal to Arnold and the Atlantic," she said. "I just wish there was something that would change things. But I guess it's a done deal, and I'm really sad about it."

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.

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