POWNAL — The sign over the entrance to the Pownal Market & Deli still reads Village Market & Video, but the store’s owner is confident that no one is confused by the defunct name or lured inside by the promise of rental discs and videocassettes. The last rented movie went out the door in 2015. It was never returned.
“Everybody local knows where I am and who I am, and what’s in the store,” said Jeffrey Egan. It was just after 6 p.m. on a recent Tuesday night — about an hour before closing and 11 hours after Egan had started his shift.
This community familiarity, he explained, is also the reason the market does not have a website. He believes an online presence would bring few additional patrons to 300 U.S. Route 7. The purpose of this place, hung with banners, posters and backlit signage for soft drinks, cigarettes, ice blocks and lottery tickets, is clear when it is viewed from the highway.
“Probably 90 percent of the customers that come in here are people I see all the time,” Egan said. “Most of them I know by name. I know their families. I know their kids. I know their parents, which is really, really great.”
Headlights flashed across the window behind the sales counter, as a car pulled into the parking lot. A man entered, said a few words to Egan and walked to the coolers in back to retrieve a gallon of milk. The man, who looked tired, whispered a few more words to Egan before he picked up his purchase and left.
The store owner sees many of the same customers every day. He waits on some of them more than once.
“There are people I see on their way to work and when they come home,” Egan said. On weekdays, he explained, the busiest times in the market are between 7 and 9 in the morning and again from 4 to 6 in the afternoon.
During the slow period after the morning rush, Egan cuts deli meats and makes lunch sandwiches. In the afternoon, he meets with salespeople or vendors. There is always something to be done in the store, and the owner said his half-day shifts pass with surprising speed.
“Sometimes I can’t even believe the time,” he said.
Egan has been coming inside this retail establishment for many of his 50 years. When he was a boy, his family spent summers, holidays and weekends in the area. His relatives lived about three minutes by foot from the store, which has had various names since it opened in the early 1960s.
“I used to walk here and buy my candy,” Egan recalled. He then smiled and shook his head. “When I was 10 years old, I’d walk to the store with a note and buy cigarettes for my grandma.”
He now lives nearby, in a house that once belonged to his great-great-grandparents.
In 2013, as he stood in the store and grumbled about his work as a catering supervisor at a ski resort, the former owner asked Egan if he would be interested in taking over the Pownal market. Yes, he replied, he was interested.
“I’d been fed up with my job for a while and couldn’t wait to quit,” Egan said.
With the store’s purchase, Egan was careful not to change the elements of what had made for a successful business. He expanded the selection of wines and beers, and brought in an assortment of consigned items — including woodworks made by the local artist Sonny Friend.
He made sure his Pownal Market & Deli still had all the requisites of a convenience store: lottery tickets, candy, cigarettes, sandwiches and groceries.
“It all helps with the bottom line,” Egan said. “It all matters.”
The store is open seven days a week. On weekdays, it runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, the store opens at 8 and is closed at 7 p.m. on Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Egan worked nearly all the shifts when he took over the store eight years ago. It was a way to keep down his costs.
Three other people are now on the payroll. The store has remained busy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Business has been very good,” Egan said. “I really can’t complain.”
The market continued to offer DVD rentals until 2015. Egan said the rental revenue did not make up for the hassle of asking people to return their overdue discs. The small section of the store in which the DVDs were displayed has been repurposed, and now holds racks of T-shirts and sweatshirts, and other consigned merchandise.
The last DVD rental, according to Egan, was “American Sniper.” Six years later, this asset remains checked out from the market. And the storekeeper who sees many familiar faces during his workdays won’t make waves in Pownal by demanding its return.
“Oh,” Egan said, laughing, “I know who’s got it.”