Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Potter family opens 4th Street Market

Tom and Judy Potter stand in the produce section of the Fourth Street Market. The Potters and their son, Matt Potter, opened the store in January. The store is licensed for EBT cards and WIC vouchers. [Photo by Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff]

Manager Matt Potter (left), works with Cullen Hoag of North Business Products to get the cash register system set up. [Photo by Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff]

It will provide the neighborhood with fresh produce, staples and a hot and cold deli

By Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff

People of the Central Hillside neighborhood are excited that the Fourth Street Market is now open under the ownership of the Potter family. The small grocery store at 102 E. Fourth St. is the only grocery store in the neighborhood and had been closed for about one year. It will feature a deli with hot and cold meals, and a fountain pop and cappuccino bar.

Tom and Judy Potter are the owners of the Fourth Street Market. Their son Matt will manage the store. Their other son, David, will manage the family-owned gas station and convenience store on Sixth Avenue East. (A daughter, Amy, is in California)

The Potters strive to give neighborhood people convenience and choices in fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products, as well as other healthy choices, but it is a challenge to sell the fresh foods quickly enough.

The Fourth Street Market now is licensed to receive EBT cards (Food Stamps) and WIC vouchers (Women Infants and Children.) The approval was a month-long process. Many of their potential customers are low-income. The waiting for approval from the state was frustrating for both the customers and the Potters.

They are hoping the deli will attract people who work downtown. Former employee Roxanne Kelly is again the deli manager, and she already has a menu with new hot and cold items for each day of the week. Some of the daily specials include: scalloped potatoes with ham or tuna casserole, creamed chicken with biscuits or beef stroganoff, and spaghetti. They will also have everyday dishes like goulash, tacos, burritos and sandwiches, as well as soups.

On a recent Saturday Rick and Rita Havron, who live up the hill by Nettleton School came into the store for lunch. “I love the deli,” said Rita. Rick said, “It is a convenient place to come down and pick something up, instead of running up the hill all the time.” His deli favorites are the potato wedges, chicken and lasagna.

The Potters own the ICO gas and convenience store on Sixth Avenue East. Many of the residents use the bus or a taxi for transportation; so not having a grocery store in walking distance was a hardship for them. Tom Potter said his convenience store saw a noticeable increase in traffic of people purchasing food items after the Fourth Street Market closed last year.

“When you see someone walking up the hill with three or four bags of groceries from Super One, you feel bad,” Tom said. (Super One is the next largest mainstream grocery store located 16 blocks from the Fourth Street Market.)

The Potters heard about other businesses, some of them from out of town, that were speculating on re-opening the store. They kept waiting, but no one did re-open the store. Tom wonders if out-of-town people may have been scared off by the bad things they hear about the neighborhood. He knew there was a need for a grocery store in this neighborhood. He also knows the people. He says the good things outweigh the bad.

In June of 2009 the Potters asked the Hurlbut-Zeppa Trust, which owns the building, to tour the store. “It was very depressing,” said Tom. “We saw a large project ahead of us.” It would take money and work to clean up and repair the store. Tom and Judy have four grandchildren and one on the way. Rebuilding a business was not in their plans for this time of their life. “I didn’t want to start out again in debt,” Tom said. George Garnett worked as a consultant with the Hurlbut-Zeppa Trust and worked out an arrangement in which the landlord would replace and repair equipment and do some cosmetic updates. Tom said that he and his wife, Judy, decided, “If Matt would do the leg work, we would bring the experience.”

Keir R. Johnson, CFO of the Zeppa Family Foundation, said, “We thought it was important to have a grocery store in the neighborhood as a service. It is both a gathering place and place to purchase necessities. The Potters had some experience in retail grocery with their other ventures. They had a vision for a grocery store.”
The majority of their loan came from the Northland Foundation. They also received some guidance from Jennifer Young of the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund.

The Potters’ first experience as small business owners on the Hillside began in 1983 when they opened the Milkhouse at 906 Central Entrance. When they lost the lease to that location, they opened the ICO at 537 N. Sixth Ave. E.

The Potters saw a real need for this business. They see it as both a service to the neighborhood and an opportunity for their son Matt to have a business. Although they see it as income for Matt. Tom says, “There is a reason why there aren’t many of these places left anymore.” Making a profit at a mom-and-pop store is difficult. The larger supermarkets can sell goods more cheaply as they purchase their products in mass quantities.

Three former employees of the Fourth Street Market are back. They include Jelayne Sargent, Claudette Huuth and Roxanne Kelly. Having their expertise will be beneficial. Claudette and Roxanne worked for both the Nygaards, who owned the business for 30 years, and the Kirks who owned the business for 2 1/2 years.

The store is open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The phone number is (218) 727-3811.