ATHENS — It was busy as usual at the Athens Corner Store this past week, just a month after the store was sold by the Jewell family to buyers from New York’s Long Island.

H. Stephen Jewel, with his late wife, Julie, and daughters Stephanie Miller and Katie Anton, had owned and operated the store ever since Dee and Larry Anderson sold it to them in 1997.

Former Athens Corner Store family owner Stephanie Miller listens as current store manager Alex Rehman talks about plans for the recently sold town landmark on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

It’s been an emotional jump, Miller and Anton said, but it was time to sell.

“Dad turned 70 in January, so he’s ready to retire and has had MS for a lot of years,” Miller, 36, said Tuesday during the lunchtime buzz at the store. “Katie’s got a new baby and three other kids. I have four kids. We have eight kids between us and (were) trying to manage this.

“This guy’s got a lot more time. He’s doing amazing things in here. I’m impressed.”

“This guy” is 34-year-old Alex Rehman, a man with retail experience at other stores owned by partners Nasir Hameed and Muhammad Ahsan, who purchased the Corner Store on Jan. 23, according to documents at the Somerset County Registry of Deeds. As the new manager, Rehman already has added specialty drinks, deli items, coffee, frozen foods — even new dog food.

“We want to make sure that people get everything they need in their lives,” he said. “Instead of traveling all the way to Skowhegan, we’re going to make sure they have everything on their doorstep.”

All 14 store employees have been told they are keeping their jobs, Miller said. The name of the entity that purchased the store is Athens Gas & Go, but the store name will not change.

It’s still Athens Corner Store.

Rehman, who moved from his native Pakistan to the U.S. three years ago, said he and the owners had never spent much time in Maine before. Arriving this winter with above average snowfall, frigid temperature, ice, sleet and freezing rain has been quite a surprise.

“This is the first time being in Maine,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. In the beginning it was hard for me, not being used to it. Now I love it. Now I’m better in the driving. My car used to skid for me. I wasn’t good at driving.”

He drives a Jeep, he said, so that helps.

Miller said the store was advertised for sale widely by a broker and there were other potential buyers closer to home, but they felt Hameed and Ahsan had the most experience running a grocery store and lunch counter business.

The usual line of groceries, beer, wine and liquor, propane, diesel and gas, newspapers, lottery tickets and a full kitchen menu will remain as they are, they said.

Rehman said being from New York has not affected the way he has been treated, living in Skowhegan and working in Athens.

The recently sold Athens Corner Store, shown Tuesday, is a popular stop for groceries, gas and a bite to eat. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“I feel like part of the family,” he said of having spent Super Bowl Sunday with the Millers, whose children explained to him the ins and outs of American football. “People are so nice. They are very comfortable. They come to me, they shake hands. I feel super-welcome.”

Rehman said the owners, who have been in the United States for three decades, own other commercial businesses in the Long Island area, including an Asian market and a couple of 7-Eleven stores, one of which he managed as he learned the business.

The deed for the store includes a permanent water well and utility agreement.

Last September, Athens voters at a special town meeting approved a water well for the Athens Corner Store on town property.

Selectmen, in a letter to the town’s Budget Committee, said the Jewell family had approached the town in the spring of 2018 about their water situation. They were being supplied water from nearby M&L Auto, which also supplies the town-owned Grange hall.

“However, due to liability issues, those involved feel it would be best for the Corner Store to have their own water source,” Athens selectmen wrote in the Sept. 18, 2018, letter to the town Budget Committee.

Customers chat over lunch Tuesday at the Athens Corner Store in Athens. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

The vote granted to H. Steven Jewell, owner of the Athens Corner Store, a permanent utility easement starting from the store property over town land and extending to land owned by TDS Inc., in a location to be decided by the selectmen for underground pipes and wiring to be placed either on town land or on land of TDS Inc.

The agreement called for the store owners to pay all expenses for construction and maintenance of the easement and water well and the expenses of providing water from the well to the Grange hall building on town land.

Anton said the agreement had nothing to do with the sale of the store.

Rehman said he plans to increase available space at the 4,000-square-foot store by moving the coolers into the rear storage area and to expand the number of tables served by the kitchen. He said by Long Island standards, opening a business in Maine has many advantages, lack of congestion being one of them.

“The rate of return here as compared to New York is very high,” he said. “The second thing is the growth potential. The growth is high in this area compared to New York and the neighborhood — how people are here. It’s not only about the money and the business; it’s about peace — comfort and peace.”

As for leaving the place they have known for so many years, Anton and Miller said they will stay busy helping their father and raising their children, just as their mother did.

“I miss it, and it’s only been a few days; but Alex lets us come in and do whatever we want,” Anton said.

Miller agreed.

“I’m excited to be able to focus on my family,” she said. “For us, when Mom passed away … I don’t want to leave the kids in the summer. I want to be able to focus on them the way that she was with us all the time.”

 

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]
Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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