WATERVILLE — There comes a time when change is necessary, and Kevin and Diane Joseph know that just about as well as anyone who has run a neighborhood market as long as they have.

After owning the family store, Joseph’s Market, on Front Street the last 30 years, the couple recently handed off the reins to Ireen Huda and Mohammad Ali, who plan to keep not only the market’s name, but all its employees and the family’s tradition of giving back to community. The market, which specializes in fine meats, this year is celebrating 90 years of operation.

“I’m hoping the community will embrace them the same way they have embraced Diane and I over the years, because I really believe it was meant to be,” Kevin Joseph said Wednesday of the sale.

Huda and her husband, Ekram, who are in their 40s, are no strangers to business. They own 7-Eleven stores in Old Orchard Beach and Lewiston as well as a convenience store, gas station and restaurant in Sabattus called Settlement. The 7-Eleven in Old Orchard rates No. 2 of 118 7-Elevens in the northeast, according to Ekram Huda, who goes by the name John.

The Hudas, who are originally from Bangladesh, say they find Waterville people warm and welcoming, and they look forward to being part of the community. Ireen Huda and her husband live in Saco, and she will visit the store at least weekly. Ali, 30, has moved into the apartment attached to the market and will manage the day-to-day operations of the business.

The Josephs, meanwhile, will help the new owners acclimate to the business and will be at the market the next several weeks.

They said they are delighted to have Huda and Ali, who prefers to be called by his surname, take over the business. They are hard-working and conscientious and understand the importance of a neighborhood market and what it means to the city, they said. While Huda was a bit nervous about how the community would receive new owners since the Josephs have been so entrenched here, her fears were allayed by the welcome she has received from people at City Hall and those whom she has met in the store.

“Everyone is very cooperative and very nice,” she said. “We will keep the store the same. It works; I don’t want to mess that up.”

Ireen Huda did her homework before buying the store. She read everything she could get her hands on about its history and about the history of the neighborhood, which includes Head of Falls and the Two-Cent Bridge. She even visited the store with her family last year at Thanksgiving to check it out, unknown to the Josephs. She and the family have since become friends, and the Hudas have dined several times at Joseph’s Fireside Steakhouse on West River Road. Kevin is partners in the restaurant with E.J. Fabian of Oakland.

Kevin Joseph, 58, has been dividing his time between the market and the steakhouse restaurant — essentially working two jobs — since the steakhouse opened four years ago. Now, he will spend more time at the restaurant and he and Diane, 60, hope to be able to spend more time with family, including their daughter, Katie, who lives in Florida, and their son, Kyle, who works at the store but has plans to move into another venture in the future.

FAMILY HISTORY

Ireen Huda says she plans to leave the photos of the Joseph family, as well as newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, on the walls of the store office to honor the Joseph family — and to keep the history of the neighborhood market alive.

Kevin Joseph’s grandfather, John R. Joseph, and his family, immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon around the turn of the century and came to Waterville because there were jobs at mills such as the Wyandotte Worsted woolen mill at Head of Falls off Front Street and Hollingsworth & Whitney in Winslow. Family members could not speak or understand English, so they had to find jobs where they could work with their hands, Kevin Joseph said.

John Joseph married Lena Ferris in 1900 after arriving in the U.S. He opened the small store but worked in the Wyandotte mill while his son, John Jr., Kevin’s uncle, ran the market.

It was farther north on Front Street than it is now and had only one aisle of groceries, he said.

The family in just a few years moved the market to its current location at 74 Front St., which had a house attached, and kept increasing the size of the store by shrinking the living space in the house.

“This was the dining room,” Diane Joseph said Wednesday in the market’s office behind the meat counter. “They just kept taking more and more space for the store, and the house became narrower and narrower.”

John Joseph Jr. died at age 33 and his brothers, Peter and Roy, Kevin’s father, took over the store, with Roy running the meat department and Peter handling groceries and produce. Their brother, Elias, owned a car dealership on College Avenue. They also had two sisters, Dianne and Sadie.

The family was generous to homeless people who lived near the railroad tracks at Head of Falls, often giving them free sandwiches from the store. They also sold cigarettes for one cent each to poor people who could not afford to buy a pack.

Peter, who died last year at 91, had retired from the store in 1985-86, but kept helping at the store until about four months before he died in December, according to Kevin. Roy Joseph had died in 2010.

Kevin and his four siblings, as well as Peter’s six children, all worked in the market when they were young. Kevin was 13 when he started working in the store, helping to put groceries away and stamping prices on products. He continued to be employed at the store during his years at Waterville High School, from which he graduated in 1975. He then attended Thomas College in Waterville, from which he received a degree in business.

His dream was to work in a business other the family market, but that was not to be. He has worked there 45 years.

“Growing up, I could see what a very demanding job it was to own a small store, especially when you’re dealing with a product that is highly perishable,” he said. “But my dad kept telling me, ‘You should take it over. It will be a good business. It’ ll provide you a good living.’ I stayed and obviously it did. It provided us with a good living, Diane and I, and we were able to raise two kids and send them to a couple of nice schools. It allowed me to do more for the community than I ever thought possible. Ireen and I have talked about giving back to the community that supports us, and when we were talking and negotiating the sale, that is one of the things I wanted to make sure she felt the same way about.”

Kevin Joseph, who serves on the board of directors for Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and has given generously to charity over the years, said he and his family are thankful for what the community has given to them.

“We were very grateful to the people who gave my grandfather a chance,” he said.

He said he now hopes the community will give Huda and Ali that chance. Huda, meanwhile, says she expects to add two more employees to the current eight who work at the market.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17