By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
FTER ANNOUNCING THAT he was closing Stanton's Market and liquidating most of his merchandise last fall, owner Bill Stanton got the shakes every time he walked into a grocery store.
Not surprising for a man who had spent 50 years in the grocery business, the last 25 operating his own store in Struthers, he said. "It was almost like being a drug addict and suffering withdrawals," Stanton said. "It was easier for me to quit smoking than it was for me to quit the grocery business."
Stanton never wanted to close his store, but the lack of reliable help left him no choice. Employees would routinely fail to report for work or would call off at the last minute, leaving him without enough labor to serve customers, stock shelves and clean, he said.
For two months he operated the store alone, selling off remaining merchandise, mostly canned goods, and paper and cleaning products. Fresh-cut meats for which Stanton's was best known and produce had been sold immediately.
Stanton bought the store, which was founded about 1907, in the late 1970s. Customers, some whose families had shopped at the Poland Avenue grocery store for generations, lamented its closing. A few even offered to work there if Stanton would keep the store open. But Stanton feared that would be only a temporary solution.
Instead, he scaled back operations, cut retail space in half and eliminated most grocery items from his shelves. As of early December, Stanton's Market became a full-service hot-and-cold deli specializing in luncheon meats and cheeses, deli salads, wings, ribs, pirogies, macaroni and cheese and corn dogs. There is no more produce and only a single shelf with dried and canned goods, cleaning products, pet supplies and other grocery items.
Customers, however, demanded that Stanton also offer the fresh, custom-cut meats and smoked meats to which they had become accustomed.
So, Stanton said, he re-opened the butcher counter.
"Now I can operate with just a couple of employees," he said.
Stanton's son, who owns a lawn maintenance business, works part time, as does longtime butcher John Toriello and a newcomer, Barbara Miller.
Miller was one of the customers who offered to work for Stanton if he'd keep his store open.
"My dad shopped here when I was a little girl and I hated to see it close," Miller said. "I had just quit a job in retail and was looking for another job when I asked Bill if he'd consider staying open if I came to work for him."
"I got about 25 applicants for jobs after I announced the store was closing," Stanton said, "but you never know how someone is going to work out."
So far, Miller has worked out well, Stanton said. He even plans to start taking one day off during the week this winter. Stanton still works 40-plus hours a week, even though the deli closes at 5 p.m., an hour earlier than the grocery store did.
In the spring, when his son's business picks up, Stanton said, he plans to return to his six-day work schedule and hire another part-time employee.
Stanton's deli is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.