Nick’s Grocery, PA staple, set to close; family business served area for 60 years

Published 4:48 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nick’s Grocery is the sort of neighborhood grocery that was once ubiquitous in every neighborhood in every town across the country.
You know the owners. The cramped shelves don’t leave a lot of room for exotic boutique brands. And you can forget about automatic teller machines.
But even still, every day for the better part of six decades, neighbors could walk in, buy a case of beer, a head of lettuce, a red tomato, ground chuck and, most important, some boudain. It’s the sort of store where neighborhood kids buy their first candy bar on their own and, a few years later, it’s the store where those same kids get their first job. It’s the sort of store that, until 10 years ago, was still accepting new credit applications from customers and it’s the sort of store that will still give credit to longtime customers who just don’t have money today but will next week.
It’s the sort of store that has mostly vanished, replaced by chain stores, sprawling aisles, slick  marketing and fancy labels.
And soon, Nick’s Grocery will also vanish.
Already its shelves are threadbare, evidence of owner Joe Nicotre’s decision not to restock.
On Wednesday Nicotre announced his decision to retire in a newspaper ad. He’d only told his employees the night prior. Nicotre is offering discounts on most things—not meat or alcohol though—and on Wednesday morning the store was packed with people and filled with emotion.
Nicotre said the decision to shutter the business after nearly 58 years wasn’t easy and it’s not due to economics.
It’s just time.
“I started when I got out of high school working here when I was 18 years old, and I’ll be 76 in September so its time to retire,” he said.
The store was started by Joe’s parents, Nick and Dorothy and the business is now owned by Joe, his wife, Janie and his sister Mary and her husband Johnny Plagman. Nicotre said his kids, Michelle, Danille and Joey Nicotre worked in the store when they were young and the Plagman children, Angie and Johnny Boy, did, too. Now they’re scattered as far afield as Hawaii and Nicotre said he’d like to have time to visit them.
Because as it is, it’s hard to have time for a Hawaiian vacation when you work seven days a week.
“Up to three weeks ago I was here seven days a week here,” he said.
Nicotre doesn’t do everything, of course. He depends on store manager Wayne Ledet, who is a longtime employee who once worked for Nick before leaving to start his own store and then returning.
“He’s been an outstanding manager for us for the last 18 years,” said Nicotre.
But while the manager handles the day-to-day, Nicotre’s the one who knows the secret sauce and it is he who makes the boudain.
Nicotre’s day begins early.
“I get here at about 15 minutes to four,” he explained.
The boudain’s the big seller, and at 4 a.m. he begins cooking the rice.
“By five o’clock, we already got 20 pounds of rice cooked and we usually cook between 60 and 80 pounds of rice every day.”
The 80 pounds of rice goes into 350-to-500 pounds of boudain, all of which is sold.
Then, he’s back at it again the next day, to make the next 500 pounds.
But not for much longer.
For longtime customers, the loss is akin to losing a friend. The store itself is part of their lives.
“I’ve been coming in here since I was old enough to reach for a bottle of Coke,” said John LeBlanc. “It’s a very sad day. I like coming in here because when I leave, people can smell that you’ve been in here.”
The store was never supposed to last even this long.
“He started off, he was gonna keep it five years,” Nicotre said of his father. “Well, my mamma, she didn’t even want to start it.”
He said the only way was for his father could sell his wife on the project was to tell her it was a five year deal. That was in 1958.
“It started off a little 24 (foot) by 34 (foot) building with no air conditioning or nothing and it was an instant success,” Nicotre said. “Two years later he enlarged and in 1971 he enlarged to this building.”
When it opened, Nicotre said it was the only game around, really. Highway 73 hadn’t been built yet and he said his parents’ friendliness meant the customers kept coming back.
People liked the familiar feel.
“If you came here in 1971, when we remodeled, you’d see the same thing today,” Nicotre said.
About 10 years ago Nicotre said he stopped opening lines of store credit to customers. He said years ago, before credit cards became popular, when employees got paid twice-a-week at the refineries, if they couldn’t afford groceries, credit was common.
Nicotre said there are still a few older customers who have lines of credit, and he worries what will happen to them when his store closes.
“We have very few, but they pay good and it’s hurts me a whole lot that they’re not going to have a place to charge their groceries,” he said.
Nicotre said he recognizes the special place his family’s store holds.
“We want to thank all of our customers and all of our employees,” he said. “We had people work for us and now they have grandkids who have worked for us and some became doctors and druggists. Several became lawyers who worked here. Just about every kid in the neighborhood worked here.”

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