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Community of 11,000 set to lose only supermarket

Locals in a small, low-income suburb north of Hastings are devastated by the news they're set to lose their only supermarket.

Flaxmere New World on Swansea Road announced on Facebook it would be closing its doors on Sunday, February 25.

"Foodstuffs North Island have made the difficult decision not to renew the lease on the building which was up for renewal in March," it said.

"It's because, even with a significant refurbishment, the building wouldn't be brought up to the standard we want for our team and customers."

The store said it would be helping staff into other roles in other local New World, Pak n Save and Four Square stores (the other brands owned by Foodstuffs).

On the deprivation index, the suburb ranks 10, putting it in the lowest 10 percent in the country.

Commenters on social media questioned how locals without the ability to drive would get their groceries, and bemoaned the fact that Havelock North, a high socio-economic suburb to the south of Hastings, is getting a brand new building for their New World.

As of Friday morning, a Change.org petition had garnered more than 800 signatures in favour of keeping the store open.

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Advocates for the elderly are concerned the closure of a local supermarket will leave older residents high and dry.

Flaxmere Age Concern chairperson Lesley Hurrey said they were losing both the convenience and the social connection of their local store.

"There's a lot of older people out here, and there's a lot of people that haven't got cars that are able to go to town, there's a lot that haven't got computers to do online shopping," she said. "It's a catastrophe, really."

Those without the ability to drive would now have to rely on smaller, more expensive stores like Four Square or the local dairy, the help of friends and family, or take the lacklustre bus system laiden with bags.

Henare O'Keefe, Flaxmere ambassador and a former Hastings District Councillor, said it would have a significant impact on the community, particularly as a low-decile suburb.

"We've suffered the calamity of closures before, Whakatū freezing works in '86, Tōmoana in 1994, and so this is nothing new," O'Keefe said. "We will come back from this, but this is significant, make no bones about it."

"It's such a friendly, friendly place to frequent. That's what we're losing -- not just a place to gather food."

But he was optimistic there would be a replacement in time -- and perhaps this closure would hasten it along.

The suburb's population of 11,000 was continuing to grow, with extensive development of housing undertaken in the past few years.

"Even the supermarket deemed to closure didn't meet all out needs," O'Keefe said. "The population grows, so we have to grow with it."

Foodstuffs, the owner of Flaxmere New World, said in a statement: "Closing a store isn't something we'd ever do lightly", and that it has "a long and strong commitment to Hawkes Bay communities and we want to give our strong reassurance that this hasn't changed at all".

Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the closure was "very, very disappointing and devastating for the community".

She said 300 more families were expected to be living in Flaxmere in the next three to four years, so the need for local amenities was growing.

The council had already zoned land for commercial use, and had been in discussions for years with the big grocery chains to try and attract them to the area.

"We've been working with both supermarkets [Progressive and Foodstuffs] now for some time to identify there could be opportunities for Flaxmere in the future for a new supermarket."

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