Tom Smaha, owner of Smaha’s Market, in the iconic South Portland grocery in 2007. Press Herald file photo by John Patriquin

Thomas Smaha, longtime owner of the iconic Smaha’s Legion Square Market in South Portland, died Jan. 7 after a brief illness. He was 77.

Mr. Smaha was remembered Tuesday as an honest, generous and hardworking man.

The store, opened by Smaha’s father in 1939, has been a mainstay in the city’s Mill Creek neighborhood ever since. Mr. Smaha began working at the family grocery at age 14, took over the business in 1969 and operated it for 43 years. In 2012, he retired and sold the store to Alan Cardinal of Scarborough. It continues to operate as Smaha’s today.

Andrew Smaha, the youngest of his four children, said Tuesday that his father always went the extra mile for customers, even at the expense of his bottom line.

“People gravitated to him,” said his son. “He had the utmost integrity. He had a high moral character. He always did things the right way and did right by people. There’s story after story of him being honest, trustworthy and generous.”

Mr. Smaha was dedicated to the community he served. When Maine’s blue laws were in effect, his store was allowed to remain open Sundays because it was smaller than other grocery stores, and it was always busy on those days. Later, after the blue laws were repealed, he began selling wholesale to local restaurants, nursing homes and fishing fleets.

“He was always there for the community and his customers,” his son said. “When the Portland restaurant scene started exploding, all those special restaurants came to him. He could find something that allowed them to change their menus daily or weekly. That really helped the local restaurant scene and allowed people to build their restaurants. He was their go-to well before Hannaford became a thing.”

Mr. Smaha served as president of the Maine State Grocers Association for six years. He was also a member of the Waterfront Marketplace Association in South Portland.

He employed hundreds of local kids and had several longtime employees. His son said he made an impact on many people’s lives.

“There are dozens and dozens of people reaching out,” his son said. “They’re saying, ‘Tom gave me my first job. Tom was amazing. He was wonderful. He treated me like a son. He treated me like a daughter.’ ”

Cardinal, who now owns Legion Square Market, said Smaha stopped by the store just after Thanksgiving. Every week someone asks about him or shares a story about him, Cardinal said.

“It’s hard to have someone who had that much of their life poured into a community pass. He touched so many people’s lives,” Cardinal said. “We bought a business that had a legacy … it needs to be celebrated and enhanced and he allowed us to do that. He meant a lot to the community. A lot of people are heartbroken by his passing.”

Mr. Smaha was a dedicated family man, the loving husband of Mary Smaha for 54 years. The couple raised four children.

Andrew Smaha reflected on his father’s ability to balance his work and home lives. He said his sisters were active in music and theater, and his father was at every rehearsal and performance. He said they shared a passion for sports, music and the outdoors.

“The second he got home, he was there,” his son said. “He was being a dad. He was being a husband. It was really cool. He was a fantastic man.”

Mr. Smaha had close relationships with his grandchildren, his son said.

“He took a lot of joy in sharing his hobbies with them, too,” he said. “He liked bringing them on the boat, taking rides into the mountains, and hitting up all the clam and lobster roll places. Every day it seemed like he was with some family member. It’s what he lived for.”

Mr. Smaha played cribbage with his wife every night before dinner. If either won two consecutive games, they stopped to have dinner, his son said. If the score was tied, they put off dinner to play a tie breaker. His son said they kept track of their overall score.

“My father led her by eight games,” his son said. “Even in his last hour, he was smiling about that.”

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