CHATHAM – If you're used to getting your gas or snacks at Cumberland Farms in the wee hours of the morning, you're out of luck this summer.
Even though the former Cumberland Farms store at 849 Main St. was open 24 hours a day during the summer months, the new store at the downtown rotary won't have around-the-clock hours.
Citing the new store's proximity to a residential neighborhood, the planning board rejected the store's request to be open 24/7 from Memorial Day to Labor Day. While there was near-universal praise for the new building, which opened earlier this year, board members said the location just doesn't lend itself to around-the-clock operation.
“This was one of our strongest conditions that we felt was absolutely necessary,” vice chairman Kathryn Halpern said, referring to the 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. opening time that was part of the board's initial approval of the store, “that this would never be a 24-hour operation at this site, and it was agreed to by Cumberland Farms. I think we need to stick to that.”
While the store has brought additional life to the west end of Main Street, board member Robert Dubis told the Cumberland Farms representative at the May 24 hearing that he was “surprised that after only a couple of months of operation you have the nerve to come back here and ask for 24-hour operation when it was adamantly, from day one, no.”
Customers have asked when the new store will move to 24-hour operation, said Richard Boyle, the Framingham-based company's regional sales manager. That late shift generally serves people in the service industry, including the management and staff of restaurants and bars, those who work overnight shifts at nursing homes, and fishermen and landscapers who go to work early, he said. The company's previous store in Chatham served 400 to 600 customers a week between midnight and 5 a.m., he added.
“It's a highly seasonal shift as well, and it's not one we would want to do on a year-round basis, because the supporting business is not there,” Boyle said. The new store was initially staffed for 24-hour operation, he said, acknowledging that he was remiss in not paying more attention to the planning board's hearings on the project.
“I've always taken the stand, let's keep open the option” for 24-hour operation, he said.
The store's previous Chatham location was not adjacent to a residential neighborhood, Chairman Peter Cocolis noted, and while he understood the business side of the argument, the board has to look to what's best for the town and the neighborhood.
“It's about the character of our town,” Halpern agreed.
Customers will just have to find another way to take care of their needs during the early morning hours, said board member DeeDee Holt. Twenty-four-hour operation at the new site “would really be invasive. I certainly wouldn't like it,” she said.
Neighbors were unanimously opposed to the idea.
“A 24-hour operation is not in keeping with our neighborhood,” said Ray Braz, owner of the nearby Old Harbor Inn bed and breakfast. “There's no need for it.”
Anita Harris, a downtown business owner whose home abuts the Cumberland Farms property, said the store's current 18-hours-a-day schedule is more than adequate. Any sales loss from early-morning traffic will be more than made up by the new location's proximity to the community center, Veterans Field and downtown.
“Let's keep a little of what's left of smalltown Chatham for ourselves,” Harris said. “I cherish the few hours of peace at the end of a summer night. When the band concert is over and the ballfield lights go out, I know it's time to call it a day.”
Dubis suggested that the store be allowed to open around the clock during emergencies, such as a hurricane or blizzard. Cocolis said the idea was outside of the scope of the hearing and a request to change the project's approval conditions to that effect would have to come from Cumberland Farms.
The board's vote to deny the request to change the original conditions to allow seasonal 24-hour operation was unanimous.