No more long drives to the market: North Quabbin Commons grows

  • Lenny O’Loughlin, left, gives Congressman James McGovern a hug in Athol's Market Basket Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Lenny O’Loughlin, right, speaks with Congressman James McGovern in Athol's Market Basket Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Market Basket in Athol, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

ATHOL — After nearly a century of stagnant growth, the town’s economic future is looking up thanks to a few large development projects.

“It’s huge, absolutely huge,” said longtime North Quabbin resident Lenny O’Loughlin, 79, a retiree who drove 26 miles one way for groceries before a Market Basket opened on the 70-acre North Quabbin Commons a few years ago.

Now, she drives eight.

Other stores have followed. Marshall’s, Maurice’s, Shoe Department, Sally Beauty Supply, Starbucks, Great Clips Salon and Verizon have since leased some of the Commons’ 280,000 square feet of retail space — employing about 450 people.

“This really has been a driver across the economy,” said Town Administrator Shaun A. Suhoski Tuesday, standing just inside the supermarket with Congressman James P. McGovern, state Rep. Susannah Whipps, and other local officials. McGovern was there to recognize the store’s impact.

“This development makes the region a more desirable place to live. It’s a necessity,” McGovern said. “In terms of tourism, this is an incredible part of the state.”

In the dairy isle, O’Laughlin stopped McGovern, gave him a hug, and thanked him for his efforts to bring industry into the region — specifically Market Basket.

“I’ve shopped at Market Basket for 40 years without going to other stores,” O’Laughlin said. “Choices are valuable. I always tell people ‘don’t tell me how much you saved on your car. Tell me how much you saved on your groceries.’”

Suhoski called the supermarket an economic “lynchpin,” kick-starting other investments and the local housing market — which he noted is now on the rise.

Tenants who plan to move in soon are Hobby Lobby, Worker’s Credit Union, Athol 8 Screen Cinema, Pet Smart, Tully Family Medicine and Walk-in Center, Haywood Urgent Care and 110 Grill.

And there’s still about 80,000 square feet of open storefront, according to Store Director Ron Lambert. He said the development attracts customers “in a 40-mile radius.”

Elsewhere, just to the Commons’ east, Athol Development LLC is working on a 37-acre development that includes a gas station, Wendy’s, retail space and potentially a hotel. Downtown, there’s a housing project in the works.

“It’s a boon for Athol. It’s going to make us grow. It’s long over due. It’s welcome,” Suhoski said.

“In almost 100 years, (the population) basically hasn’t changed,” said James Meehan, chairman of the town’s Economic Development Industrial Corp. “We’re hoping this is an impetus to get things started.”

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo