In my defense, it was a brilliant idea at the time. The old corner store was ready for the wrecking ball, but I looked past the scuffed checkerboard linoleum, ancient green cash register and decades of old convenience store displays.
In my imagination I peeled the large butcher paper signs from the plate glass windows, and rustic floorboards in a chic espresso stain picked up the sunlight. The hot dog case and condiment bar gave way to artisan salads, wraps and soups.
I saw customers shift from the familiar old men with their lottery tickets, cigarettes and six packs to the young and restless, too busy to dine in, always on their way elsewhere. They would pick up a forgotten bouquet of flowers, a healthy bite, some overpriced gourmet chips, maybe a super-tall quality coffee at the bar.
And as in any fantasy, I imagined women. Or, one woman. Beautiful, tasteful, accomplished, hopefully interested in my boutique convenience store.
The basic concept was solid. I researched C-stores (as the industry called them), grocery stores, food service, uniforms, beverages, you name it. The constant refrain was the convenience store as a destination, replacing impulse with intention.
You don’t grab a snack; you buy a meal. You come because it’s on your way and has what you need. If I fulfilled enough needs with my fresh take on the corner store, I hoped to finally find what I needed.
I didn’t wear a name tag, hideous colorblock shirt or paper hat. I went for the cool, considered retro look with suspenders and a full beard. But some things don’t change.
Like Grandpa, I still swept the floor, stocked shelves, rang up customers. The bakery and florist delivered. The old men hated me for the lack of cigs and beer, but the coffee and custom sandwiches were making up for that. I just never imagined being the one pouring the coffee and making the sandwiches.
Despite all the improvements, it was just a convenience store, and I the clerk. Just like Grandpa. But at least he had been married.
The security guard came in every morning. He glowered at me as I hastily made him his Cuban sandwich. Then she came in. I held my breath, watching her make her purchases. I rang the guard up in a daze.
She requested a tall white chocolate mocha, a nice foil to my black coffee. An herb and cheese egg wrap with prosciutto; I liked those too. The Wall Street Journal, matching mine hidden under the counter. I rang up her purchases, every total confirming we were meant to be together. I checked her card– Dara LeRoy. Her name hadn’t changed.
I tried sliding a pack of cinnamon Trident in for good measure. She gave me a firm smile, then slid the gum back to me.
“No thanks, though it is my favorite.”
“Great,” I croaked, handing her the receipt. She peered past my beard and chubbier face.
“Joe? Is that you? I thought you were done working here back in high school.”
“Well, it’s not exactly the same place. It’s elevated.”
“Elevated, my ass!” The bell on the door handle jingled. A hot sandwich suddenly hit me in the face. I caught it as the returning security guard yelled, “You put sweet pickles in my Cuban, you animal!”
“Bread and butter pickles,” I stammered. “The perfect combination of sweet and spicy.”
“I didn’t ask for sweet.” He approached the counter, nodding my dream customer away as he unsheathed his baton.
“I’ll make you a new one.” Gloves on. Breath held. Sandwich made.
“There you go,” I said. “At Fresh Take we take you seriously. If it isn’t made to order, it isn’t made right.”
“No shit,” the customer said, “but thanks.” He smiled as he walked out the door.
Dara peeked from behind the curated comics rack. “You have a cool head for a clerk. And you had such big plans.”
“I still do. I’m the owner. This is all my idea.” I feebly waved my arm at the absurdity.
“I like your take on things,” Dara said, giving me her card. LeRoy Investments – In search of unique experiences.
“We should talk,” she said. “We could have a great future together.”
And we did. It had been a brilliant idea, until robot baristas and sandwich chefs took away the homespun ambiance. So Grandma Dara and I are giving you kids the old corner store to figure out the family’s next big dream.