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Neighborhood grocery stores, once the American standard, now a rarity

  • Jim (right) and Robyn Bashios, owners of South Street Market, help a customer in their store recently. JENNIFER MELI / Monitor staff

  • Co-owner Hye Sook Han prepares the Mt. Washington, one of her signature dishes at Go Food Basket. July 19, 2016 —JENNIFER MELI

  • Hye Sook Han, co-owner of Go Food Basket, prepares the Mt. Washington, one of her signature dishes served in store. July 19, 2016 —JENNIFER MELI

  • Co-owner Hye Sook Han prepares the Mt. Washington, one of her signature dishes sold at Go Food Basket. July 19, 2016 —JENNIFER MELI

  • Hye Sook Han, co-owner of Go Food Basket, prepares the Mt. Washington, one of her signature dishes. July 19, 2016 —JENNIFER MELI

  • Hye Sook Han, co-owner of Go Food Basket, prepares the Mt. Washington, one of her signature dishes. July 19, 2016 —JENNIFER MELI

  • Hye Sook Han, co-owner of Go Food Basket, prepares the Mt. Washington, one of her signature dishes. July 19, 2016 —JENNIFER MELI

  • John Cimikowski, owner of Cimo's South End Deli, started his business seven years ago. July 19, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • John Cimikowski, owner of Cimo's South End Deli, started his business seven years ago. July 19, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Hye Sook Han, co-owner of Go Food Basket, prepares the Mt. Washington, one of her signature dishes. July 19, 2016 —JENNIFER MELI

  • John Cimikowski, owner of Cimo's South End Deli, started his business seven years ago. July 19, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • John Cimikowski, owner of Cimo's South End Deli, started his business seven years ago. July 19, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Until the Korner Kupboard closed last year, the building had housed a neighborhsince the 1920s. July 19, 2016 —JENNIFER MELI

  • TOP: Karma Gonpo, owner of Katmandu Bazaar, refills the green chilis in his store recently. ABOVE: Until the Korner Kupboard closed last year, the building had housed a neighborhood market since the 1920s. JENNIFER MELI / Monitor staff

  • Karma Gonpo, owner of Katmandu Bazaar, refills the green chilis in his store. July 22, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • Christa, owner of The Place Studio and Gallery, pours some paint to get ready for a class. July 22, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI



Monitor staff
Sunday, July 24, 2016

After nearly 20 years across the street from Korner Kupboard, Jeff Smith can tick off the long list of past owners at the neighborhood grocery store.

There was a guy named Joe, who knew everyone and everything in the neighborhood. There was the Patel family, whose business suffered because of construction on Route 3. There was Bob Hill, who brought in the Italian ices beloved by Smith’s daughters. There was Matt Gallo, who eventually closed the shop last summer.

“We would kind of use it as our second pantry,” Smith, 47, said. “You get halfway through a recipe, and you realize you don’t have butter.”

The store seems to have changed hands countless times since the 1920s. But this time, Korner Kupboard has been vacant for nearly a year. The property sold in December, but the new owner declined to comment on her plans. So the Smiths and other regulars drive to Cumberland Farms or a grocery store for their last-minute shopping.

“It’s not as much fun when you have to hop in the car,” Smith said.

The median square footage of supermarkets has grown by more than 30 percent in two decades, according to the Food Marketing Institute. The average grocery store has more than 42,000 items inside. In 2015, more than 38,000 supermarkets reported at least $2 million in sales.

In the meantime, Concord’s neighborhood grocery stores like Korner Kupboard are more scarce than ever.

“We’re a dying breed,” said Liz Duncan, manager of Quality Cash Market.

In the family

Near the cash register at South Street Market, Jim Bashios keeps an envelope with old newspaper clippings and a list of names. They date back to 1870, the first record of a market where his business now stands.

His grandfather’s name is written at 1948. 

“This is what I was born into,” Jim, now 55, said. 

Liz Duncan can say the same. Her grandparents – Ed and Thelma Heath – started a meat market at the corner of Rumford and Beacon streets in 1977. Her father, Tony Heath, moved Quality Cash Market across the river to Eastman Street in the 1990s. Duncan didn’t start working at the market full time until 2012, when she left a career in social work. But she’s not a rookie. 

“I’ve made more kabobs than any person here,” she said. 

Duncan’s 22-year-old daughter, Juli, has vowed to be the fourth generation to run the market. That knowledge has made Tony Heath more relaxed about its future, his daughter said.

“ ‘One day this is going to be yours,’ he says to her,” Duncan said. “ ‘I know Grandpa,’ she says.”

But that streak comes with sacrifice. 

When their two sons were small, the Bashios family used to take an annual vacation. Robyn insisted on the tradition when she noticed her younger son drew stick-figure families with only three members: two boys and whichever parent wasn’t working. Other than Christmas and Thanksgiving, those seven days were the only occasion to close the store. But the trips stopped when the recession started.

“There was no way to close for a week and recover from that,” Robyn said. 

Now, the Bashios sons don’t want to inherit their parents’ business. A recent college graduate, Christian Bashios has never worked the register at the market, and he doesn’t want to. 

“They work almost every day of the year,” he said of his parents. 

Finding a niche

When John Cimikowski took over the vacant Ordway’s Market on South State Street, he decided to give it his own name. In the seven years since, Cimo’s South End Deli has also found its own specialty. 

“This place would not be able to make it without the deli,” Cimikowski said. “You have to change with the times.” 

Concord’s independent and family-owned grocery stores usually stock canned goods, milk, beer and other conveniences. They know the box stores are often cheaper, but they keep a small backstock on hand for emergencies and last-minute errands. Often, they buy directly from a grocery store rather than paying for delivery from a wholesaler. 

“If you want a convenience store for one time a year, you’ve got to frequent it 10 times a year so it stays open,” Cimikowski said.

To really compete with chain stores, however, these markets have each carved out their own identity, usually in prepared foods. From hand-cut meat to deli sandwiches to homemade spanakopita, those items are now the lifeblood of the business. 

“He’s a regular for his feta cheese,” Robyn Bashios said, with a nod to the customer at the register with her husband. A sign on the wall reads: “The Greeks invented everything.” 

For the Bashios family, Greek heritage inspired their menu. For the Han family at Go Food Basket on Washington Street, it was Korean.

Hye Sook Han, whose American name is Helen, opened the market 12 years ago with her husband, Kwan Soo Han. In the back, she makes traditional dishes renamed for her New Hampshire clients. (The best seller is a family recipe for bi-bim-bap – or a “Mt. Washington” on the Hans’ menu.) 

“They love the homemade kimchi,” she said. 

As Concord’s neighborhoods become more diverse, so do their markets. Karma Gonpo, 37, started the Katmandu Bazaar on Loudon Road in 2014 because stores weren’t selling the products the Asian and African refugees in the area wanted.

Now, his shelves are stocked with sichuan pepper and chutneys, mustard greens and mangos. 

“They needed their own grocery,” he said.  

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)