Petition to open Atkins Farms branch in North Amherst approaches signature goal

By Kate Leddy

A petition asking Atkins Farms to establish a second market in North Amherst has nearly reached its goal of 400 signatures, and its creator, Cinda Jones, is feeling hopeful.

Elizabeth Sinclair/Daily Collegian

For years, Jones has been trying to convince Atkins Farms president Pauline Lannon to open a second market that would be easily accessible to areas in North Amherst such as Leverett and Sunderland.

“I started thinking,” Jones said, “what would invigorate North Amherst? What would be the ideal business that would do very well and jump-start the community?”

Jones believes that Atkins Farms is the answer. During the 1960s, it began as a small family business in South Amherst, and although it has come a long way from its origins as a small fruit market, Akins’ policy of providing customers with locally produced and privately labeled products has remained the same throughout generations of ownership. Today, one can purchase freshly baked cakes and pastries, homemade pies, locally grown produce, cheese, wine, meat, flowers and more. They also do catering, gift baskets and deliveries.

In 2011, Lannon seriously considered Jones’ proposal, but renovations at the Atkins Farms in South Amherst led to a decline in profits and the idea began to seem less plausible. Now, Lannon has once again started to seek out locations for a potential second location.

Jones is the retail owner of what she believes she is the perfect spot: a new commercial building called The Cowls Trolley Barn. Located at 68 Cowls Rd., the building has 2,000 square feet of retail space – a fraction of the size of Atkins farm in South Amherst. However, Jones believes the new market could “start off small,” as the original Atkins had, “and in a few years’ time expand to a location right across the street.”

What’s more, Jones and Lannon have agreed that the new market would be able to sell many of the popular goods that its South Amherst branch does, but with less production effort. Fresh baked goods, flowers and more could be delivered daily from the South Atkins to the North Amherst location.

Lannon herself was convinced, but unsure of how high the public demand was. When Jones offered to find out through a Facebook group and then with a petition, the responses were more enthusiastic than the two had hoped.

The petition, which was sent to libraries, town halls and organizations in each town, reads: “If you build a 2000sf Best of Atkins specialty shop in North Amherst that sells fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, baked goods, grab and go meals, and offers the opportunity to special order birthday cakes and fruit baskets, we will come!!” It received over 100 signatures within the first few days, and nearly all of the signatures were accompanied by enthusiastic comments from citizens of North Amherst.

Jones never doubted that an Atkins in North Amherst would immediately thrive. She pointed out the numbers of people living in the hill towns around North Amherst who work at the University of Massachusetts and commute through North Amherst daily. Overall, she said there are about 25,000 commuters through North Amherst each day “and they have no place to stop for local, quality food.” According to Jones, an Atkins in North Amherst would provide them with “the best of gourmet grocery in a small place,” with grab-and-go sandwiches that have not only received excellent reviews but are also reasonably priced.

When a group of UMass students from the Amherst area were asked what they knew about Atkins Farms, they all praised the market, raving about its delicious cider donuts. Jones believes that the North Amherst Atkins will be highly appealing for students living off-campus, especially coming from a school that places so much emphasis on local, sustainable goods.

Jones herself is the president of a long-term generational business that focuses on agriculture, timberland land conservation and real estate. The farm connection between her company and Atkins is something she said she values greatly.

“Our trade routes in the same town go back generations,” she said. “It would be such an amazing marriage of the apple and the tree.”

The decision could be coming within a matter of days. Lannon told Jones that she would consider the proposal over the holiday weekend and have an answer later this week. Jones remains cautiously optimistic, but with 338 online signatures and an enthusiastic president, the odds appear greater than they ever have been.

Kate Leddy can be reached at [email protected].