Quality Cash Market, a cornerstone corner store in East Concord, is saved from foreclosure

  • Store Manager Liz Duncan stands for a photo on the porch of Quality Cash Market in Concord on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Store Manager Liz Duncan works within the deli at Quality Cash Market in Concord on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Store Manager Liz Duncan talks about the current state of Quality Cash Market in Concord on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Store Manager Liz Duncan talks about the current state of Quality Cash Market in Concord on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 5/24/2017 11:49:58 PM

On Tuesday morning, when a foreclosure auction had been scheduled on the steps of the Quality Cash Market in East Concord, something completely different happened.

Instead of an auctioneer, it was store manager Liz Duncan’s daughter, Juli, who represents the fourth generation in the family business, standing there on Eastman Street, holding a sign that announced the auction was canceled.

Inside, the cornerstone corner store offered a celebratory special: coffee and doughnuts for 40 cents apiece, to mark nearly 40 years in business and, hopefully, another 40 to come, Duncan said.

With the financial help of “some really awesome family members,” she said, the Quality Cash Market warded off the foreclosure that threatened to shutter one of the city’s few remaining mom-and-pop grocery stores and deprive the East Concord village of its favorite specialty meat shop.

“There is no mortgage. There is nothing. It’s been 100 percent paid off,” Duncan said, declining to divulge exactly how much was owed. “To me, it’s a lot of money.”

‘Trying to stay relevant’

In an interview Wednesday on the business’s front porch, Duncan said the challenges aren’t completely in the rear-view mirror.

Quality Cash Market still owes two years of back property taxes to the city, totaling more than $27,000, and will have to adapt to the changing atmosphere for small businesses. Duncan said she’s thinking of installing a Frisbee game for kids to play outside and making changes to the health care plans that employees have long enjoyed.

“It’s trying to stay relevant,” she said. “I think that’s what’s hard, because it’s 2017. Things that were working for dad back in ’87 are not going to work 30 years later.”

On that front, it’s up to Duncan to innovate, but even for basic business questions, she’s been on her own to a greater extent than many of her customers may realize.

‘I wasn’t in time’

Duncan’s father, Tony Heath, who has owned and operated the business since 1982, suffers from dementia, she said. He still works at the meat counter day in and day out, doing the things that are second nature to him, but he has trouble recognizing faces, and Duncan said she was never able to learn the technical aspects of running a business from her father.

When Duncan took over as store manager five years ago, she said, her father was “already on the downslide.”

“Trying to learn from him – I just wasn’t in time,” she said. “That really devastated me.”

She turned to her father’s many friends in the community for advice with business questions. It was a difficult step for her to take, because her father was never one to ask for help, she said, but some have been helpful, and others haven’t.

“I never want to get in this predicament again, and because I couldn’t learn all the things I wanted to from dad, I’ve reached out to a lot more people to make sure I can learn,” she said.

“How do I make this successful, you know? How did dad do it for 40 years? And what do I need to do ... so that I can do it for 40 years? I’m young enough that I can do this,” she added.

‘Love in this community’

In all the uncertainty over the past month, Duncan said one thing has become abundantly clear: her customers’ loyalty to the store.

“I was so overwhelmed with the amount of love in this community,” she said. “I still am. I really am.”

She gave the example of one of her regulars from the neighborhood who always stops in for coffee on her way to work.

“She came over and she’s like, ‘Liz, this isn’t going to happen. I will stand in front of the door and not let them do anything, okay?’ ” Duncan recalled. “I mean, here’s this woman, 5 feet tall, and she was big, bad and bulletproof, going, ‘This isn’t going to happen. They’re going to have to step over me.’ ”

When Duncan posted the news that the auction was canceled on Facebook, it reached 31,000 people, as many as three out of every four residents of Concord. Almost 100 comments rolled in, with people declaring that their cookouts, tailgates and Memorial Day barbecues were saved.

Duncan said her employees, too, never wavered, and the residents in the apartments above the business trusted that she’d work things out.

“There wasn’t even a question. It’s crazy. It’s amazing. ‘You’re going to take care of it?’ Yeah, somehow, some way, I’ll take care of it,” she said. “I’m glad people had that much confidence, because I didn’t.”

‘Glad you’re still here’

Going forward, Duncan said she’s going to work out a payment plan to catch up on her taxes and do everything she can to keep the business on track.

When the construction on the roundabout on East Side Drive spills onto Eastman Street next month, that’ll include some special giveaways to make sure customers take the extra time to visit. And, for the first time in four years, she’s looking at increasing prices in the deli this year.

But mostly, everything will stay the same. There’s a reason the business has been around for so long, she said.

As a man exited the store and ducked into his car Wednesday afternoon, he shouted to Duncan, who was above him on the front porch, “Glad you’re still here.”

“Me too,” she replied.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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