On Monday, July 27, Shelburne Supermarket shoppers were shocked to find their go-to grocery store closed. The next day, the long-time Shelburne establishment quietly reopened under new ownership. The store is now run by Mike Comeau, the owner of the Richmond Corner Market, Sterling Market in Johnson and the Village Market of Waterbury.
Shelburne Supermarket had been owned by the Clayton family since the 1970s. Comeau, a resident of Jericho, began preliminary discussions about a potential purchase in 2014 but those talks became more serious when Steve Clayton died in November, leaving the business to his wife Sara. The one-day closure was needed for Comeau to install a new point of sale system and have employees fill out forms. All but two of the 40-plus employees have decided to stay on. Both Comeau and Clayton wanted the change-over to be low-key. “I just want to come in and be part of the community,” Comeau said.
Comeau doesn’t plan to make any major changes to the store with one exception. He hopes to eventually drop the “super” prefix and just call the business Shelburne Market. “The word ‘super’ doesn’t fit in Shelburne,” he said. “It’s really a 1970s term and the word ‘market’ is a better match.” Comeau does intend to repaint the store and install some new equipment. He will introduce a variety of new items ranging from Nabisco products to craft beers, while continuing to sell the current stock. Eventually he hopes to add a salad bar.
Comeau built his Richmond store from scratch in 2010 and subsequently purchased poorly performing stores in Waterbury in 2011 and Johnson in 2012. The Johnson and Waterbury stores are showing at least 50% more sales than under previous management. Comeau is currently working on an adaptive re-use of a structure in Jericho with hopes to open a market there in 2016, but he does not believe the Shelburne addition stretches him too thin. For one thing, making purchases for multiple stores allows him sell products at a lower cost. Additionally, he is able to centralize some operations with a three-person in-house accounting department and a Vice President of Human Resources who travels to all the stores to make sure the employees are happy.
Comeau noted that the scariest thing about the purchase is the fact that the Shelburne Supermarket was a successful store, in contrast to his previous ventures. “When you buy a failing store you have the opportunity to make changes and everything is accepted,” he said “but when you buy a successful business, change is not necessarily seen as a positive thing.” Since many of the store’s current vendors also do business with Comeau’s other establishments he expects the change-over to be a seamless one.
“This was never a plan,” said Comeau of his expanding ownership. “There was never a plan to go past the Richmond store but it’s evolved into what it is and I’ve a got a great team. I couldn’t do this alone.” Comeau said he never makes a decision without thinking of the people who work for him. “I have 200 folks who are counting on me to make the right choice,” he said. “If I make the wrong choice, everybody loses their job.” Comeau believes that by choosing similar communities for his ventures and keeping the same business model, he can ensure that all his stores are successful. “As long as I stay within that model,” he said “we’re going to be good.”