For more than half a century, Mellen Street Market has been serving Portland, Maine’s Parkside neighborhood. In 1973, the Nappi family purchased it and turned it into a community corner store with a friendly atmosphere. Then four years ago, the store changed hands.
“Tim Ly bought the store in 2018 with the idea of taking it to the next level,” said Chantal Do, a consultant helping Ly with the transformation. “While we kept much of the things our customers enjoyed, we also brought in new items and new amenities to reach an even wider audience.”
A FOOD FOUNDATION
Like many convenience stores, Ly focused on food as a point of differentiation for Mellen Street Market. “He put in a full kitchen so we could offer fresh food,” Do said. Chef Dan Mase crafted the menu with daily specials and pizza, as well as a wide variety of sandwiches, including Pork Banh Mi and Vacationlander, billed as a “classic Maine-style Italian.” The kitchen also supplies the grab-and-go coolers with sandwiches and other prepared meals.
“Everybody loved it when we opened the full kitchen,” she said. While prior owners offered sandwiches and pizza, none had the full menu now at Mellen Street Market. “Driven by takeout orders, our sales went up when the kitchen came online,” Do said. The store has a busy breakfast and lunchtime rush for kitchen orders, but dinnertime can get hectic as well.
The store stocks 60-plus local craft beers, a large increase from the previous owners. “We also have relationships with more than 10 local farms to carry their products in our store,” she said. For example, the store sells fresh duck and turkey eggs, and local sausages, cheeses, milk, yogurts and ice cream. Even the coffee is supplied by more than five local companies.
A BAR ABOVE
While Mellen Street Market has many of the typical convenience store items, it does boast an unusual feature—a full bar tucked into the back of the store. “Ly’s idea from the beginning was to open a bar inside the convenience store,” Do said. “Of course, COVID pushed things back a bit, but the bar has been open for business for several months now.”
Called Quinn’s Bardega, the bar has a counter and stools, plus a couple of tables to encourage patrons to linger over a glass of one of the craft beers on tap or a mixed drink. “The menu is a little bit truncated from a stand-alone bar, but we have the usual beer, wine and mixed drinks,” Do said. “People have seemed surprisingly open to having a bar inside a convenience store.”
The bar has a daily happy hour with regular drink specials, which has been a hit with customers. “It has worked well with the convenience store side,” Do said. “The bar has been a successful addition since it opened, and we hope it will only grow in the future.”
A FRIENDLY PLACE
While the coronavirus pandemic has made operating a retail business difficult at times, Do believes better days are ahead for the store. “We want to continue to offer the same service and prod- ucts, but we struggle with supply-chain issues like the big box stores,” she said. “We hope our customers understand and stick with us.”
Overall, what has kept Mellen Street Market afloat since Ly took over is its friendliness. “We listen to customers and treat them like family,” Do said. “We see the same people almost every day, and we ask them about their lives like you would someone in your family. That shows customers they matter to you.”
Mellen Street Market’s kitchen hadn’t been open long when the 2020 pandemic shutdowns started. “Pre-COVID, we had partnered with third-party delivery companies, which was helpful during the shut-downs,” said Chantal Do, a consultant working with the store’s owner. “But the high cost of having a different delivery company wasn’t feasible in the long run.”
The store severed its contracts with the delivery companies, switching to takeout only. However, Do does see the value in finding the right partner for future deliveries. “Our goal this year is to partner with someone for delivery because our customers have been asking for it, but we want to make sure the arrangement is financially viable for us and them before moving forward,” she said.
Ideas 2 Go showcases how retailers today are operating the convenience store of tomorrow. To see videos of the c-stores we profiled in 2020 and earlier, go to www.convenience.org/ideas2go.