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Money can’t buy happiness, but a winning Powerball ticket helps at a N.H. store

  • Jane Coelhow, 80, gets interviewed by Boston’€™s Channel 7 producer David Tanklefsky outside of the Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack on Monday, January 8, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sam Safa, owner of Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack, has been inundated with interview requests from media outlets and congratulations from regulars since news spread that his store sold a Powerball ticket for worth $559.7 million. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Reeds Ferry Market owner Sam Safa gets congratulations from customer Shawna Sullivan of Nashua on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The ticket that showed that the Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack had sold the winning ticket for the Powerball drawing on Saturday night. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Reeds Ferry Market owner Sam Safa talks on a live interview by phone with CNN after his store sold the winning Powerball ticket on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Channel 9 new reporter Andy Hershberger interviews Sam Safa, owner of Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack on Monday, January 8, 2018 where the winning Powerball ticket was purchased on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The sign for the Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack along Route 3 on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. As the sign says, a winning Powerball ticket was sold at the convenience store. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor columnist
Tuesday, January 09, 2018

All I could think about was money, at a charming neighborhood market in Merrimack.

Money, money, money, money, money.

My eyebrows turned into dollar signs. I wanted to layer 1,000-dollar bills on my turkey sub like lettuce and take a big bite, without a care in the world.

Too dry? Pass the mayo.

To coin a completely original phrase, I was the green-eyed monster on Monday, and so was Christian Zorn, a 54-year-old Merrimack resident whom I met at Reeds Ferry Market, where the winning Powerball ticket was sold, its numbers drawn Saturday night.

No one had claimed the $559.7 million jackpot by press time, but people like Zorn and me were already kicking themselves for not thinking of the numbers 12-29-30-33-61, and topping them off with a Powerball number of 26.

In retrospect, it seemed so easy.

“People always say money can’t buy you happiness,” Zorn told me during the lunchtime rush. “And I always say, ‘Fine, but at least give me a chance to prove you wrong.’ ”

Zorn was part of the customer and staff buzz that began this weekend and extended through Monday.

On Sunday, after news broke, the media heavyweights from Boston showed up, including the Globe and the Herald. Media from Vermont and Maine came down, too. Everyone wanted a piece of store owner Sam Safa.

Then, on Monday, Channel 7 from Boston, WMUR and the Globe returned, and to top it off Safa was interviewed live via phone by CNN.

Any outlet that wished to dig got a great slice of life here. This was a local market with a distinctly noncorporate identity, wrapped in a feel-good story.

Reeds, which is 100 years old, has been owned the past 14 years by Safa, a 45-year-old Lebanese immigrant who fled his homeland to escape never-ending civil war.

He’s got a wife, four kids and the patience of a small business owner who repeated the same lines 559.7 times in 48 hours to an endless stream of reporters, never once sighing, or shaking his head, or shooing anyone away.

Safa told me he’s proud to be an American citizen, and in fact he wanted to make sure that I mentioned it. He freely admitted that the free advertising could lead to “a boost in business.”

“Reporters are still calling me. I had more than 20 interviews (Sunday), newspapers from around the country,” he said.

But those I spoke to all made sure I knew Safa was more than a publicity-seeking businessman with a bottom-line-only mentality.

He’s a community guy who sponsors community events. He runs a place known for its regulars, working men and women who enjoy eating lunch where everyone knows your name.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get one of three stools at an old-school counter. You’ll have a sandwich. You’ll warm up with a cup of coffee. You’ll feel welcome. You’ll buy a Powerball ticket. You’ll win nearly half-a-billion dollars.

“Where are all the celebrities?” 80-year-old Jane Coelho boomed, as soon as she walked through the door. (Concord Monitor columnists don’t qualify.)

Later, out in the parking lot, Coelho told me she’s a retired insurance worker who’s lived in Merrimack for 53 years.

“I’ve been coming here for 51 of those 53 years,” Coelho said. “Sam is terrific.”

Inside, Danny Kaboub of Dracut, Mass., sat at the counter and said Safa “could run for mayor in this town and win.”

And Gary LeBlanc of Merrimack, who owns his own plumbing and heating company, was also at the counter, eating a sub before going back to work.

“I’m very happy for him,” LeBlanc told me. “He’s a great guy, and he’ll do anything for you. A great family, and he made this business great.”

Shawna Sullivan, a nurse from Nashua, said, “It leaves a different taste in your mouth because it’s so close to home. When someone wins in a place like, say, Michigan, it doesn’t seem real.”

There is another portion to this story, of course: All these customers played Powerball recently, and none are multimillionaires.

Kathy Robinson was on duty Sunday morning, when the Powerball machine flashed a message, and Ethel Kroska, who was working the register Monday, punched out that message on a New Hampshire Lottery ticket piece of paper and handed it to me.

“There was 1 Powerball jackpot winner sold for last night’s drawing at REEDS FERRY MARKET in Merrimack, NH.”

“I probably would have died of a heart attack if I had won,” said Kroska, who’s been working at Reeds for 13 years.

I asked: “And if you had won, what’s the first thing you’d do with the money?”

“Pay some bills,” Kroska said. “Then help my kids and my grandkids. Then book my trip to Ireland.”

It’s a trip Kroska said she’s always wanted to take but never has. She said she would have brought her sister and her sister’s dog, Simba, adding that Simba would have sat in first class with them.

“I could have afforded it,” she told me.

Safa will receive $75,000 for his part in this. He chose not to comment on what he might do for his staffers, but don’t be surprised if they receive a late Christmas bonus.

Safa is that sort of guy. He said he might do some renovating to his store. He said he might take his family on a “small vacation.” He said he hopes one of his regulars won the prize.

Others could only dream. Coelho said she’d buy a new Chevy Classic to replace her old one.

Elsewhere, some had fun with the big news that shocked the community like the recent cold spell. Sales rep Eric Waxman checked on inventory and asked Safa, “Will you even have time for me today?”

Kaboub called Safa’s wife to make sure she heard her husband’s interview live on CNN.

“My husband is getting too famous now,” she told Kaboub. “I won’t be able to talk to him.”

John Bringhurst of Merrimack had fooled his brother Sunday into thinking John had won the money, telling me, “I screwed with him for about five minutes.”

Me?

I dreamt about a turkey sub.

Hold the mayo.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)