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Wilmington store transition needed ‘right fit’

August 9, 2019
By ELIZABETH IZZO - Staff Writer , Lake Placid News

WILMINGTON - Cliff Holzer was in high school, making sandwiches behind the deli counter at the Little Super Market, when he met Sarah.

The two locked eyes. Eventually, they fell in love. They got married, had three sons and settled down in Sarah's hometown of AuSable. That the couple would eventually come back to Wilmington and take over the same business where they'd first crossed paths 18 years prior was unthought of. Nonetheless, three months ago, it became their reality.

Cliff and Sarah, both 35, left their jobs earlier this year and moved back into town. The move came after more than a year of trying to secure a loan to purchase the store, which was put up for sale by Becky and Roy Holzer, Cliff's aunt and uncle.

Article Photos

News photo — Elizabeth Izzo
Sarah and Cliff Holzer stand in front of the Little Super Market in Wilmington Monday, Aug. 5.

In the 22 years that Roy and Becky owned the small convenience store, they developed it into the community hub it is today, complete with a gas station added after Wilmington's other one shut down. Cliff and Sarah were determined to keep the market in the family and continue that legacy.

"We had a vision. We were going to do this, no matter what it took," he said.

Roy and Becky agreed to sell it to them. The only obstacle was the money. After Cliff and Sarah went through multiple banks, receiving one loan rejection after another, their aunt and uncle agreed to help the couple out with a portion of the cost.

Cliff and Sarah were finally approved for a loan to cover the rest earlier this year.

"Champlain National Bank took a risk with us," Cliff said. "We're grateful."

The right fit for Wilmington

Roy and Becky are heavily involved in the Wilmington community. They also own Whiteface Corners, a multi-purpose building with lodging and the location of Pourman's Tap House. They wanted to sell the Little Super Market to the right person. The process of finding that buyer was lengthy.

"We had a couple offers," Roy said. "We had a very serious offer from a group from New York City that was willing to pay cash. After the meetings we had with them, we felt they wouldn't be the right fit for Wilmington.

"We wanted a mom-and-pop feel to it. I didn't want it to be a corporate store. I want it to continue on as a family."

They also wanted the store to remain a local staple that's not just supported by residents, but a good place to work for the market's longstanding staff and be supportive of the community in return.

"It's about being involved in the town in terms of sponsoring youth programs, being a part of the community and supporting things in the surrounding communities (like Jay and AuSable Forks)," Roy said. "Being plugged into a lot of community-service-type stuff - it goes hand in hand with being a mom-and-pop business."

Roy admits there was also a bit of a nostalgia factor to the deal. He'd worked at the store when he was a teen, and his family has been in charge for almost half his life.

"It's a lot of nostalgia, a lot of emotions," he said.

Roy said Cliff approached him and let him know he'd be interested in taking over the business. Roy agreed that his niece and nephew were exactly the right fit.

"They had the same philosophy as we did about being a part of the community," he said.

Though they officially took over May 2, Roy is always a phone call away, according to Cliff.

"I think for taking on an operation like the Little Super Market at the beginning of the summer, they've been doing a fantastic job," Roy said.

"There's a lot of work that goes into running a grocery and gas business. It's the only gas station in town, and the place can be hopping over the summer months. They've done an awesome job."

New amenities

Adding craft beer to the market's shelves was the first change Cliff and Sarah made when they took over.

That addition came at the request of a customer. Sarah said many residents come into the store upward of three to four times each day, so when one of them makes a request, the couple takes it seriously.

"We love the tourists, but we cater to the locals," Cliff said.

The couple has plans to expand the Little Super Market sometime this year, which will allow them to relocate the new craft brews into a designated "beer cave" and free up shelves for other things, which may include expanded gluten-free options -- another customer request.

Cliff and Sarah also want to build a new commercial kitchen, which they say will give them the ability to start churning out pizza on a daily basis and experiment with adding new dinner specials like rotisserie chicken and potatoes.

In the meantime, the couple is focusing on continuing to serve the community.

"This has been a big change for a lot of people, and a big change for us," Cliff said. "We appreciate the community's support."

The Little Super Market is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends, at 5794 Route 86.



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