KERSEY – At a time when mom and pop convenience stores are rapidly being replaced by franchises and big-box conglomerates, Kersey is fortunate to have a family business that has survived and thrived for 87 years.
The Corner Market and Deli, located at the bottom of Main Street across from the Fox Township Ambulance Garage, was started in 1935 and was then known as the Swanson Brothers Store. Albert, Harry, and George Swanson leased the small store from the Foster family, who had operated a tobacco and candy store there for several years. When Mr. Foster died in 1947, the Swansons were told they had to either buy the building or close the store. They bought the building, started a grocery store, and the Swanson family moved into the adjoining house.
In the early 1950s the Swansons built a cement block addition and interior construction was completed by Clyde Green.
“I worked in the store when I was a teenager. I stocked the shelves, checked people in and did other work as needed. There was a big file of customer notes because most people bought on credit. and paid the bill on payday. Few people had cars, so we often delivered groceries. My dad was a self-taught meat cutter and served as a butcher in the store. He was affiliated with Surfine Foods in Olean, and he would travel north in his panel truck, load boxes of supplies for his store and other small stores in the area. The revenue from the store supported not only our family, but also my two uncles. We all lived together and working at the store,” said Mary Ellen Badeau, daughter of Harry Swanson.
The Swansons sold the store to Bob and Paul Fields in October 1972, and the name was changed to Bob and Paul’s Market. Bob brought his meat-cutting skills to the business, having been a butcher in the Navy, and the store gained an excellent reputation for its meats.
“The burger was always freshly ground, not prepackaged. When people came and bought their meat from me, I would call them and check if they had any problems. The reason I had such integrity with clients is because people like to be treated like they’re special. We depended on those customers and treated them well,” Bob Fields said.
They also carried a variety of hard-to-find Italian foods, as well as a full line of groceries, and Bob did a lot of venison processing for local hunters. Bob and Paul then began selling lottery tickets, a service which was continued by the next two owners.
In 1981, Bob and Paul completed a new addition to their building, which created 2,600 feet of retail area. They are expanding the butchery department and adding a self-service meat crate. They were affiliated with the Olean Wholesale Grocery Co-Op which supplied the market with meats and produce. The market began to offer smoked meats, aged brick cheeses and Swedish cheese. Fields fondly remembered that they periodically held Moonlight Madness Sales, which proved quite successful as bargain hunters filled the parking lot and lined up around the store. They sometimes had summer grills in the parking lot as a guest appreciation event. What he liked least about the business was keeping up with the growing and ever-changing amount of paperwork required by various government agencies.
In January 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 in accordance with Ministry of Health requirements. They also expanded the meat department to accommodate the new freezer and cold room. 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 of these foods had to have the ingredients listed on the label, a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process.
“Over the past few years the regulations have gone crazy, requiring so much extra time, and that’s when I really started thinking about selling the store. I just didn’t want to learn to do everything on the computer, which was becoming increasingly used in all aspects of business,” Herbstritt said.
It branched out into offering different services like faxing, money orders, making copies, selling dog licenses, and adding ATMs and credit cards. She has done many community acts, such as giving a chicken discount to an organization hosting a chicken barbecue, selling books by local authors, and donating gift certificates to various groups for their fundraising efforts.
During the pandemic they have remained open as an essential business but have seen shortages of certain things, as have department stores. She found that large grocery stores that ordered multiple cases of an item received their order, while the single case of something she ordered would not come. During this time, it became more apparent than ever that surviving as a small store was becoming more difficult.
On August 30, 2021 Alicia Beck purchased the Corner Market and Deli. She instituted a new computerized payment system, giving a small discount for cash and no longer taking personal checks. She has seen the cost of most groceries increase, sometimes as much as double what they were.
“Containers and trays of meat that used to cost 20 to 30 cents now cost 80 cents. Shipping costs have increased due to higher gasoline prices. Product prices have also skyrocketed. I added Skill Machines (casino games) to attract people to the store, and they are a stable source of income in the face of ever-increasing prices,” she said.
Beck plans to add a barbecue area to the store, and a health food store is being built on site by a tenant and will open soon. She feels it will be necessary to add other services to try and offset the higher costs of everything.
When asked if she regrets 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 enriching 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 got paid.
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 have been able to adapt to the needs of their customers despite the changing times, and that they have continued to offer the personalized service that is difficult to find elsewhere.