A hole in Lincoln’s fabric
Future uncertain for local Donelan’s
Repairs to the Donelan’s Supermarkets store in Lincoln, closed since its roof collapsed under heavy snow last winter, were expected to be completed by the end of last week. But it’s still unclear whether the Lincoln Station grocery will reopen.
The uncertainty has left residents, business owners, and local officials worried about the future of the town’s small retail district, which has been anchored by the family-owned supermarket for the past 30 years.
“The grocery store is an important asset to the town, both for the convenience of residents and as the anchor business in south Lincoln,’’ said Town Administrator Timothy Higgins. “We want to see the commercial area prosper, and we’re concerned if the grocery store isn’t there it will cause other dislocation in the area.’’
The store was forced to close after its roof collapsed Feb. 2 following a series of snowstorms. The Rural Land Foundation, a local nonprofit trust that owns the Mall at Lincoln Station property, has been working with its insurance company over the past seven months to make repairs to the building.
But in July, Donelan’s filed a complaint in Middlesex Superior Court seeking to terminate its lease. The regional grocery chain’s lawsuit states that it had complained several times, starting in 2008, about the condition of the building’s roof, but the foundation had ignored its concerns and did not make any repairs. The lawsuit also states that Donelan’s raised concerns about snow buildup on the roof less than a week before its collapse, but the property’s owner took no action.
The Rural Land Foundation says it told Donelan’s that engineers found no reason to be concerned about the roof’s structural integrity.
Geoff McGean, the Rural Land Foundation’s executive director, said the organization wants Donelan’s back and has been working over the past several months to repair the building. He said last week that the roof repairs were expected to be completed within days.
The foundation uses income from the property to support conservation efforts in Lincoln.
McGean said he has no idea whether Donelan’s Supermarkets, which has six locations, will reconsider its lawsuit now that the building is nearly repaired.
A woman who answered the phone at Donelan’s corporate headquarters in Littleton said the company had no comment.
“We’re still holding out some optimism that with the roof completed, they’ll have a change of heart,’’ McGean said.
After the company filed suit to get out of its lease, McGean said, he started looking for other tenants to take Donelan’s place. “We started that on a preliminary basis, but we’ve focused on getting Donelan’s back as our number one priority,’’ he said.
The closure has inconvenienced residents, many of whom now go to Acton, Wayland, or Concord to shop, and it has also left a void in the heart of the town’s commercial district.
Resident Virginia Lemire said she’s been urging residents to call or e-mail Donelan’s, asking them to stay in Lincoln, but the company hasn’t responded.
“After 35 years, they’re giving up on us,’’ Lemire said. “They are putting up this stone wall, which upsets me a great deal. We don’t know what’s going on.’’
But, she said, if Donelan’s reopens, residents will flock there. “I think they may feel like they’ve lost their customer base, but that’s not the case here,’’ she said. “They have a monopoly, and the minute Donelan’s is back, people would be there.’’
In the meantime, Lemire said, some residents, including senior citizens, must take vans or the train to shop for groceries. Council on Aging volunteers are taking residents to other towns.
“If you don’t have a market, your town suffers,’’ Lemire said. “It’s also an anchor in the mall, and without it, what have you got?’’
Some of the remaining businesses at Lincoln Station, many of which relied on the Donelan’s foot traffic for customers, are feeling the impact.
Dana Salvo, owner of the Clark Gallery, said business has dropped noticeably since Donelan’s closed. “The supermarket itself is the reason people come to the mall on a regular basis,’’ Salvo said. “Subsequent to the roof collapse, the local foot traffic has pretty much evaporated. I don’t want to say it’s been a nightmare, but it hasn’t been pleasant.’’
Salvo said the problem has been made worse because no one knows what’s going on. He said the Rural Land Foundation hasn’t responded to letters from tenants or met with them.
McGean said he understands the frustration, and while it seems like it’s been a long time, the process has moved along as quickly as possible. “In the insurance world, it hasn’t taken a while.’
Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at email@example.com.