During Covid-19 crisis, market-delis struggle with changing consumer demands

By Bruce Frauman
©2020 Telegraph Publishing

While  grocery stores such as the Londonderry Village Market and Lisai’s Chester Market continue to do steady business during the Covid-19 stay home orders, many of the smaller markets that offer not only specialty foods but meals as well have seen their sales take a dive as they work to do all they can to continue to operate.

Homemade pies were a regular site on the counter at Mike and Tammy’s, until Covid-19 struck. Photo from Mike and Tammy’s Facebook page.

Tammy Clough, co-owner of Mike and Tammy’s Main Street Deli in Londonderry, says sales “are not great.” She calls the 80 percent drop in her business “hard to figure,” and says she believes many former customers, especially 2nd homeowners, are now going to “big box stores to hoard.” Clough says she still has toilet paper, flour, yeast, bread and other hoarded products in stock, but sales remain low. Paper goods and hand cleaners are selling out.

In normal times, Main Street Deli is a traditional convenience store that includes a deli where the staff cuts meat obtained from a local supplier and Tammy serves up hot fried chicken, hot dogs and breakfast sandwiches from a heated glass case as well as soft-serve ice cream. Homemade pies and pastries line the checkout counter. The attached restaurant, the Maple Leaf Diner, has gone from 130 customers a day down to 12 take-out orders.

For safety’s sake, Clough is utilizing lots of bleach and she and her staff wear masks and gloves for protection, and she had closed the deli’s bathrooms. And while business is slow, Clough is repainting the diner and the ceiling of the shop and deli.

A new business, and the crisis hits

The Weston Marketplace was purchased by Mehul Dholakia in November 2019, several months before the crisis hit. Photo by Bruce Frauman

It was just last November when Mehul Dholakia, 42, purchased the Weston Marketplace, the first time on his own after managing hotels for “the family business.” Like Mike and Tammy’s, the Weston Marketplace is a traditional convenience store with an active delicatessen.

While it is the only grocery in Weston, Dhaolkia says sales are down 60 percent to 70 percent compared to last year. “It has been a tough couple of months,” he says, and knows that sales will be hurt by the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company cancelling its summer season. But Dholakia intends to keep the store open and his family fed.

Dholakia is “not worried,” saying that people have been supportive and have been buying beer, cigarettes and some gasoline. The Indian food he introduced to the deli has been popular, he says adding, “when people change the food they eat, it makes for a better day.” And he looks forward to when the economy starts up again after “grinding to a halt.”

Grocery sales up, food sales down

Jason O’Connor in 2018, after the deli opened. Telegraph file photo

Jason O’Connor, chef/owner of the Corner Market and Deli in South Londonderry, says groceries are selling more than before the shutdown while sales of sandwiches and other prepared are down. Housed in what once was a hardware store, then an earlier market and deli, the almost two-year-old Corner Market takes up much of the floor space, with a prep kitchen in the back and large sales counter up front. A side room is dedicated to wine.

On the weekends, O’Connor sells out of meals such as lasagne, Mexican dishes and ribs. Customers pre-order by phone and pick up their meals in the store or on the front porch. Some customers are second homeowners who O’Connor says “are nothing but courteous and respectful.”

Overall, O’Connor is “definitely hurting,” with revenues are down about 40 percent. The cuts are across the board: groceries, alcoholic beverages and food. He said his primary goal, besides staying open for the supportive community, is to keep his employee, Alyssa, off unemployment. O’Connor said she recently purchased a home and her husband has been laid off.

The Garden Market and Deli is selling more health care products. Photo by Bruce Frauman.

Boost from health item sales

The 40-year-old Garden Market and Deli in Londonderry also sells staples such as bread and beverages, but founding owner Judy Platt says it is primarily a deli and health store, carrying such items as herbs and spices, vitamins and minerals. The large windows and narrow storefront make for a bright interior.

Platt said offerings are “changing daily” based on customer requests. She ended up greatly expanding her produce sales, which she called “huge.” Other hot sellers have been bags of King Arthur’s flour and sugar  — not all of it organic, local hummus and skyr, an Icelandic variation on yogurt. Also selling well, Platt says, are  immune system boosters such as vitamins C and D, tonics and elderberry products.

At this point, Platt doesn’t allow customers in the shop. The staff wears masks and disposable gloves. Orders are taken by phone and food and products are left in stapled bags on the porch for customer pick-up. The outside area is regularly sprayed with disinfectant. On Friday and Saturday nights, Platt offers one-pot meals for two prepared at her formal restaurant, The Garden Cafe, just across the courtyard. Customers often add a bottle of wine and service, she says.

David Nunnikoven behind his plastic shield at Grandma Millers.

Wholesale business
‘keeps the lights on’

David Nunnikoven, owner of Grandma Miller’s Pies and Pastries in South Londonderry, says that while his retail business is down, his wholesale business “keeps the lights on.” And he’s seen an uptick from second homeowners.

As with the Weston Marketplace, the cancellation of the Weston Theatre season reverberates at Grandma Miller’s and means a big loss of cookie sales. Nunnikoven also said he expects there to be fewer wedding parties to sell to this summer.

Housed in an former barn, the high ceilings makes for an open feeling despite a wall of freezers. There is seating for 20, which will remain empty until the governor reverse his closed order.

To add a layer of protection, Nunnikoven built a plastic and aluminum barrier at the counter. He also has customers use hand sanitizer before entering the shop.

Doing well with customers who don’t like supermarkets

Down the road a bit, Donna Korpi, owner of the Mountain Energy Market,  says her business is “going very well,” especially since her customers don’t want to shop at large supermarkets.

Mountain Energy continues to do a brisk business. Photo by Bruce Frauman.

Korpi sells environmentally friendly cleaning products. Fresh produce, delivered up to five days a week is very popular as is milk, meat and general food items. Many customers are second-home owners who Korpi calls “outrageously cautious” and self-quarantined for 14 days after arriving.

Korpi also had high praise for the delivery drivers who are “the frontline, holding it all together.”

Like everyone else, Korpi is concerned for safety. She uses a 70 percent alcohol solution to spray products as they come in, leaving the boxes on the floor for several hours before shelving. She uses the same solution to spray the empty boxes used to package orders for customers, which she does while wearing disposable gloves, one set per customer. Korpi takes orders mostly by email and places the boxes on her porch for pickup. She charges a little extra per item to pay for the time taken to assemble the orders.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Business & Personal FinanceBusinessesCovid 19 CoverageFeatured

About the Author:

RSSComments (1)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. George Mora says:

    Three cheers x infinity for all these folks keeping our communities supplied and fed. Additional shouts out to the Vermont Butcher Shop, New American Grill, SoLo Farm and Table, JJ Hapgood, Meulman’s Craft Draughts, Jelley’s, and (for non-edible essentials) Londonderry Hardware and Green Mountain Pharmacy. The ingenuity and adaptability demonstrated by ALL of our local businesses is so impressive, and so welcomed. Big thank-yous to all of you for keeping the engine running!

    George Mora
    Chairwoman, Londonderry Selectboard