Lisai’s becomes Smitty’s with new owner

New owner Garrison Smith discusses plans for merchandising produce. Photos by Shawn Cunningham


By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Garrison Smith is no stranger to working 12 hours a day, but it’s a long way from working as an attorney and corporate counsel to babysitting an ailing cooler until service can arrive. Smith is the new owner of Lisai’s Chester Market, whose name will be changed to Smitty’s.

New market owner Garrison Smith

Smith and his wife Lisa have had a second home on Route 11 west for seven years although they have been coming to the area for a long time. All three of their sons – now ages 18 to 25 – learned to ski at Okemo Mountain Resort and at some point the family decided to find a place in Vermont.

“We loved the area,” says Smith who hails from Lexington, Mass. “We stayed at the Stone Hearth Inn, looked around and fell in love with Chester.”

When Smith heard that Lisai’s was for sale, he was not quite ready to leave the corporate sphere.

“I figured five more years or so then we would move up permanently and I’d find something to do,” says Smith.  “But an opportunity to do something like this doesn’t come along every day, so I had to look at it.

“I started talking with Lonnie in December,” says Smith. “I knew the store from a customer’s perspective, and I asked a lot of people what they thought of the idea. They were supportive, but they said it would be a whole lot of work.”

Smith had no retail experience, so he worked with Lisai for two months as both men decided if this was the right move.

The new logo for Smitty’s Chester Market

“He was interviewing me to see if I was the kind of person he wanted to take over the store he had built up over 27 years. It was a long interview because I worked side by side with Lonnie for two months. And the more I worked here the more excited I got,” says Smith.

Long time owners Lonnie and Obe Lisai sold the store to Smith and retired in late May of this year.

Smith says he has a lot of ideas but he’s taking it slow. To start, he moved the hot food display to the middle of the wine room and started offering fresh breads. In the future, Bonny Hudson, who prepares the to-go foods and lunch bar, will begin packaging what Smith calls “evening meals” in family sized packages to add to the individual servings now offered.

Bonny Hudson will continue to make her takeaway meals and treats

Down the road, he expects to take out the wall to the office and make it part of the sales floor. He’s also thinking about ways to cut congestion during the lunch rush.

Smith is also shifting some things around the store to be able to do more, such as offer a wider variety of produce and carry more products. In effect, he wants to continue to be that full service grocery store on a very small footprint.

“I don’t want to lose anything. Everything in this store sells,” says Smith, noting that the market sells “a fair amount” of cottage cheese with pineapple. “Who knew,” laughs Smith. “That’s the fun of it, seeing the trends, finding what people are using.”

Smith says he’s happy to try new products, but has to be mindful of how much shelf space he’s using.

If Lisai’s Market is known for anything, it’s meats and Smith says that will continue. “As a customer I always wondered ‘how fresh is everything?’ ” says Smith, referring to how quickly meats get sold. “There’s nothing in that meat cooler that’s more than 48 hours old. We crank it out.”

Longtime team member Melinda Cyr checks out a customer

After having cooler problems, Smith sees one of his first big changes will be behind the scenes when he installs a new walk-in cooler at the back of the store. This will give him more flexibility in ordering and will help him expand Bonny Hudson’s kitchen.

Smith says his wife Lisa is also working at the store, checking out customers, learning the ropes of the back office and a host of other tasks. Smith says she enjoys meeting everyone in town.

And the name of the market? Garrison Smith says it’s not named after himself,  but his grandfather, Lewis Smith who was a carpenter, served in World War II and was a family man. Smith named the market after him because when he thinks of his grandfather he thinks of hard work, integrity and family. “Those are the values I want to continue in the market.”

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  1. Welcome!! We’re so happy you’re continuing the traditions and creating your own. We look forward to embracing Smitty’s – an integral part of our community.

  2. Irene Bassock says:

    Terrific story about Garrison and Lisa. We are excited to see what they have planned for our favorite grocery store.

  3. Barre Pinske says:

    The store was one of the reasons I moved here I am grateful for the efforts of Lonnie and his family. I always felt at home there appreciated the quality of the products and fair prices for a small family owned store. I wish Garrison and Lisa success and happiness in their new venture it’s great they found a business to run and are keeping the store going for our community.

  4. Suzanne Waldren says:

    Congratulations Garrison and Lisa! From the time I met you (and served you weekly) 6 years ago when I was working at the Stone Hearth, I hoped you and your family would make Chester your home. Now you own one of my very favorite stores and I get to see you all of the time again! You’ve got a great crew to work with to boot. Best of luck, friends!

  5. Keith L Turner says:

    Congratulations! Wishing the bests of luck to the both of you. Chester is a wonderful town to do business in.

  6. Sharon Jonynas says:

    Congratulations on your new venture. Lisai’s Market has been like a second home to so many of us over the years. I will miss seeing Lonnie and Obe, but I wish Garrison and Lisa all the very best. It’s a great store with wonderful employees, fantastic products, and a good vibe.

  7. Phil Perlah says:

    Best wishes.

  8. Lee Whiting says:

    Wishing you all the best !