KERSEY — In an age when mom and pop convenience stores are rapidly being replaced by franchises and big box conglomerates, Kersey is fortunate to have a family-owned business that has survived and thrived for 87 years.
The Corner Market and Deli, located on lower Main Street across from the Fox Township Ambulance garage, was started in 1935 and was then known as Swanson Brothers Store. Albert, Harry and George Swanson rented the small store from the Foster family, who had operated a tobacco and candy store in that location for several years. When Mr. Foster died in 1947, the Swansons were told they either had to buy the building or close the store. They bought the building, established a grocery store, and the Swanson family moved into the attached house.
In the early 1950s, the Swansons built a cement block addition, and the inside construction was completed by Clyde Green.
“I worked in the store as a teenager. I stocked shelves, checked people out, and did other jobs as needed. There was a large file of customer tabs because most people bought on credit and paid the tab on payday. Few people had cars, so we often delivered the groceries. My dad was a self-taught meat-cutter and served as the butcher in the store. He was affiliated with Surfine Foods in Olean, and he would make the trip north with his panel truck, load up cases of supplies for his store and other small stores in the surrounding area. Income from the store supported not only our family but my two uncles as well. We all lived together and worked at the store,” said Mary Ellen Badeau, daughter of Harry Swanson.
The Swansons sold the store to Bob and Paul Fields in October of 1972, and the name was changed to Bob and Paul’s Market. Bob brought meat-cutting skills to the business, having been a butcher in the Navy, and the store earned a fine reputation for their meats.
“The hamburger was always freshly ground, not prepackaged. When people came in and bought their meats from me, I would call them up and check to see if they had any problems. The reason I had so much integrity with the customers is because people like to be treated like they are special. We depended on those customers, and we treated them right,” said Bob Fields.
They also carried a variety of hard-to-find Italian foods, along with a full line of groceries, and Bob did a lot of venison processing for the local hunters. Bob and Paul’s then started selling lottery tickets, a service that was continued by the next two owners.
In 1981, Bob and Paul completed a new addition to their building, resulting in 2,600 feet of shopping area. They enlarged the meat department and added a self-service meat case. They were affiliated with the Olean Wholesale Grocery Co-Op which supplied the market with its meats and produce. The market began offering smoked meats, aged brick cheeses and Swedish cheese. Fields fondly recalled that periodically they would run Moonlight Madness Sales, which proved to be quite successful as bargain hunters filled the parking lot and lined up around the store. They sometimes had summer grilling parties in the parking lot as a customer appreciation event. His least favorite part of the business was keeping up with the ever-changing and increasing amount of paperwork required by various government agencies.
In January of 2000, Bob and Paul Fields sold the store to Joan Herbstritt, and it was renamed The Corner Market and Deli. Improvements made included upgrading the meat department by plumbing it for water. Stainless steel sinks were installed as required by the Department of Health. They also extended the meat department to accommodate the new freezer and walk-in cooler. A kitchen area was built where foods like macaroni salad, ham salad and hot dog sauce could be prepared, as well as an oven where baked goods were made. All this food had to have the ingredients listed on the label, a process that was very time consuming, and at times, frustrating.
“During the last few years, regulations became crazy, requiring so much extra time, and it was then that I really started thinking about selling the store. I just wasn’t into learning to do everything on the computer, which was becoming more widely used in all aspects of the business,” said Herbstritt.
She branched out by offering different services like faxing, money orders, making copies, selling dog licenses, and adding ATM and credit card machines. She did many community-minded things like giving a discount on chicken to an organization having a chicken barbecue, selling local authors’ books, and donating gift certificates to various groups for their fundraising efforts.
During the pandemic, they stayed open as an essential business but saw shortages of certain things just as bigger stores did. She found that the larger grocery stores who ordered multiple cases of an item would get their order, where the one case of something that she ordered wouldn’t come. During this time, it became more obvious than ever that surviving as a small store was becoming more difficult.
On Aug. 30, 2021, Alicia Beck bought the Corner Market and Deli. She instituted a new computerized checkout system, giving a small discount for cash, and no longer taking personal checks. She has seen the cost of most grocery items increase, sometimes to double what they were.
“Containers and meat trays that used to cost 20 to 30 cents now cost 80 cents. Shipping costs have gone up because of higher gas prices. Produce prices have skyrocketed as well. I’ve added Skill Machines (casino games) to draw people into the store, and they are a steady source of revenue in the face of ever-rising prices,” she said.
Beck plans to add a barbecue area to the store, and a health food store is being built onsite by a tenant and will open soon. She feels it will be necessary to add other services to try to offset the higher costs of everything.
When asked if she has any regrets about buying the store during these difficult times, she replied, “No, not yet!”
During its 87 years, this store has had only four families as owners, each one adding to and improving it as they could. All four owners mentioned that they worked many hours in the store themselves to save the cost of paying an employee. Fields mentioned that his wife worked in the store every day, but never took a salary.
According to its owners and the community, the little store has been such an important part of Kersey over the years. And, it is a testament to the owners that they were able to adapt to the needs of their customers despite the changing times, and that they continued to offer the personalized service that is hard to find anywhere else.