GREENFIELD — As Marsh prepares to close its store on north State Street amid poor performance, Greenfield residents are lamenting the loss of a longtime community partner.
In its 59 years in Greenfield — 30 in its McKenzie Plaza location — Marsh has supported a number of local efforts, either through direct charitable gifts or offers to let nonprofits set up shop in the store to seek donations for their causes.
This week, local organization leaders talked about what the store’s closure means for their missions.
An unexpected offer
They call it the Marsh Miracle.
At Brandywine Community Church, parishioners still talk about what the supermarket’s generosity meant for their congregation in its earlier days — long before they became one of the county’s largest churches.
The fledgling group was searching for a home, about 15 years ago. They did their research on local buildings, went from spot to spot, searching for just the right place to gather on Sunday mornings.
But nothing seemed to fit the vision of what they hoped Brandywine would become one day, said Max Wright, who was a leader of the church at the time. Then someone suggested an open storefront to the north of the supermarket on State Street.
The rent each month would have set them back $7,000 a month, Wright recalled — a bill the church of fewer than 100 worshipers couldn’t foot at the time.
“As you can imagine, the offering plate at that time wasn’t very full,” Wright said.
Then came an unexpected offer.
At the time, leaders at the Marsh store expected to one day expand into the space — meanwhile, should church leaders agree to keep up the place, they could worship there, rent-free.
For the supermarket, it was a practical agreement that supported the local community. For Brandywine, it was a blessing that marked the start of it all.
As they used the Marsh-owned storefront, church leaders saved money, looking for land to build a church of their own to accommodate an ever-growing membership. Some $400,000 later, they were able to purchase the 20-acre plot along New Road where the church now sits, Wright said.
When it came time to unveil the building, a representative from Marsh was invited to join the celebration by the grateful and growing congregation
“We felt like — without a doubt — that God had intervened,” Wright said. “The Marsh Corp. saw it fit to be more than generous.”
A warm welcome
It’s always cold, spitting rain and sometimes snowing, during Girl Scout cookie season.
In the early months of each year, youngsters in green sashes layer on their winter hats and gloves to dash around town collecting cash in exchange for boxes and boxes of their beloved treats.
And every year, the luckiest among them set up a post near the registers inside Marsh, safe from the blustering wind, a prime spot to meet and greet shoppers eager to take home a few boxes of Thin Mints.
Cheryl Lenser’s daughters, members of Troop 1074, were always grateful to store leaders who welcomed them. Other area grocery stores let the girls set up outside or in their breezeway, where the chill came in with every shopper, she said.
Losing Marsh will mean stiffer competition for the other options to set up cookie tables, said Troop 1134 leader Maura Hutcheson, who with the girls in her troop, now fifth-graders, asked year after year to sell at Marsh.
It’s easier to make a successful sales pitch when you’re warm and toasty after all, she said.
And it meant a lot that Marsh’s friendly managers and staff kept those little girls’ fingers and toes in mind every time cookie-selling season rolled around.
A community loss
The sounds of bells and seasonal well-wishes always greeted Marsh shoppers at Christmastime.
With snow flurrying outside, bell-ringers from the local Salvation Army always found a bit of comfort and joy inside the supermarket that welcomed them for 10 years, said Jim Peters, who helps coordinate volunteers each winter.
The spot at the Greenfield Marsh was a coveted location, Peters joked: the grocery store drew a steady stream of customers willing to donate the change left over from their shopping trips, and store officials always allowed bell ringers to stand inside the building, keeping volunteers out of the winter cold.
It’ll be a tough partnership to say goodbye to this holiday season, Peters said. He and other Salvation Army leaders will spend the summer months searching for new locations that can take the place of Marsh in the nonprofit’s lineup of collection sites.
But it won’t be quite the same without the grocery store’s helpful customers and joyful staff.
“The more locations where we have live ringers, the more families we’ll be able to help in Hancock County,” Peters said.