WATERVILLE — Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday helped celebrate the opening of Save-A-Lot, a grocery store that adds a long-awaited piece to the downtown puzzle.

“It’s terrific for the city,” said LePage, the city’s former mayor.

Large superstores are not doing as well as envisioned, and smaller stores such as Save-A-Lot are seeing a comeback, LePage said as he walked the aisles.

“We’ll see a lot more neighborhood stores like this,” he said. “It’s gaining popularity. I love this style. This is cost effective. They’ve done this well.”

The Save-A-Lot is one of a handful of new businesses opening this month downtown. Developers also are looking at two Main Street buildings for prospective businesses, and a park on The Concourse is being revamped.

Sandwiched between Family Dollar and Inland Family Care, Save-A-Lot is the first grocery store to open on The Concourse since Shop ‘n Save, formerly Cottle’s Food Center, closed there many years ago.

After that closure, downtown residents, including elderly people who do not drive, lamented the loss.

Shannon Haines, executive director of Waterville Main Street, said in all the surveys done in the last several years about what is needed downtown, a grocery store was always at the top of the list.

“This is something we’ve been hoping for, for as long as I’ve been in my position — nine years,” she said.

A flurry of shoppers swamped the store when it opened at 8 a.m. Zak Sclar, the store’s majority owner, said he was pleased with the turnout.

“We’re just happy to be in the Waterville community and serve the downtown,” Sclar said as he greeted patrons. “Hopefully, it’ll be a catalyst.”

Sclar, who also owns a Save-A-Lot in Lewiston, said he hired about 28 part- and full-time workers for the Waterville store. Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.

“We pride ourselves on our quality meats,” he said. “We grind our hamburger fresh every day — no pre-processed burger.”

He said customers typically save 40 percent on their groceries at his store.

“Save-A-Lot is one of the fastest-growing supermarket chains in the country, with 1,327 stores,” he said. “We have incredible buying power.”

The individually owned Save-a-Lot stores are franchised by the publicly traded company, Supervalu. The store joins other grocery stores in the city, including Joseph’s Market on Front Street, Shaw’s Supermarket on Kennedy Memorial Drive, Hannaford stores at Elm Plaza and JFK Plaza and Caswell’s Liquidation Center, a discount store on Armory Road.

Clyde Rumney, 64, and his wife, Hazel, 63, of Thorndike, left the store with a cart full of groceries.

“We loved it,” Hazel Rumney said. “We’ve been waiting for this to open because we’ve been driving to the Save-A-Lot stores in Farmington and Brewer. The prices are great. Today, we saved between 20 and 25 percent.”

The Rumneys, who are retired, said they will shop in Waterville at least twice a month and patronize Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and Save-A-Lot, all on The Concourse.

“Today we bought fruit and vegetables and paper products and some meat and laundry things,” Clyde Rumney said.

City Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, stood on the curb in front of the store after the governor left, marveling at the cars filling the parking lot.

“Seriously, when have you seen the parking lot here in The Concourse full at 9:15 in the morning?” Winslow asked. “Not since Cottle’s was here. That was the heart and soul of the downtown.”

Heirloom Antiques and Vintage, which sells clothing, jewelry and antiques, is another business that opened recently downtown, at 35 East Concourse, below Tardif Jeweler, Haines said.

I Do Windows, which specializes in window treatments, also has opened on The Concourse below Adams & Worth Home Furnishings, she said.

Haines added that a developer is considering the old Haines building at the corner of Main and Appleton streets for a commercial venture on the first floor and housing on upper floors.

Mayor Karen Heck said recently that another developer also is seeking to buy the former Levine’s clothing store building on Main Street for an as yet undisclosed venture.

And Wednesday morning, work began on renovations to a small park near The Concourse entrance to Barrels Community Market. Volunteers plan to create raised beds and develop a shaded eating area, plant fruit trees and build a small bandstand for acoustic music, according to Barrels Manager David Gulak. Gulak said the park groundbreaking was launched in preparation for Waterville Main Street’s Earth Day Move and Groove on Saturday.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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