New village market set for early October opening


Lindsay Brown

Shelves and freezers await stocking in Johnson’s Sterling Market. The old Grand Union space has been gutted and rebuilt.

The long-awaited Johnson’s Sterling Market, owned by entrepreneur Mike Comeau, is slated to open Oct. 1 to start serving the residents of Johnson as well as adjoining towns.

The former Grand Union building has been vacant since flooding in April 2011.

While Pomerleau Realty, the owners of the property, had a dollar store in line for the vacant lot, it held off while the town tried to pursue someone willing to open another grocery store, knowing how important it was to the town.

“It took a long time to locate a grocer,” said Lea Kilvadyova, community & economic development coordinator for Johnson Town. “I would say it has been a year-and-a-half since Mike Comeau and Pomerleau Realty connected. It has been a long process.”

It has also been a difficult and complicated process. “The financing piece was definitely a challenge, that was the first big hurdle we faced,” said Comeau. According to a newsletter from Town Manager Duncan Hastings, funding for this project came partly from a $500,000 federal grant to the town. In addition Comeau has invested $1 million of his own capital, and has established a long-term repayment method for the loans. Pomerleau Realty has also invested about $400,000 in improvements to the building.

“This grocery store is an anchor for the community,” said Kilvadyova. “I am very excited. Every time I have to go shopping out of town it is an extra nine miles, and I live right in the village, so it’s going to be wonderful as well as a pleasurable experience because of the choice of foods that are going to be available and because of aesthetic appeal.”

Mariah Friedrich of Cambridge, Vt. does her laundry at Sudsy’s Wash-N-Dry next to the grocery store and is excited about its opening and the prospect of being able to do all of her errands in one place. “I hope that it will be affordable because Grand Union was a little bit pricey, and that is why we would go to Price Chopper in Morrisville and not shop in Johnson.”

The store is going to feature both conventional grocery items as well as local and organic products, such as those from Foote Brook Farm on Rt. 15. The store is also being equipped with all new refrigeration and flooring as well as a re-vamping of the storefront. “Getting the store ready has been a lot of work,” said Comeau. “It was obviously a space that had been flooded and was in need of a lot of work and everything is brand-new… I think the most rewarding part has been seeing the work actually happen and also just being a part of the community. Being here a lot, we get five or six locals stopping in a day and saying they can’t wait, so that has been a lot of fun. Anytime I hit a hurdle here, or a snag, then having someone come through the door five minutes later and say they can’t wait really helps me get through to the next level.”

The employment opportunities this grocery store will provide to the community are also significant. According to Kilvadyova, Comeau is already accepting job applications, which are available at the town office, and will be providing about seven full-time managerial positions and anywhere between 25 and 30 part-time positions.

Comeau chose the name, “Johnson’s Sterling Market,” which was submitted to the naming contest by Johnson resident and part-time instructor at JSC teaching in the Fine Arts department David Grozinsky out of nearly 200 submissions. In choosing the name, Comeau tried to look for a theme, which became evident in the word “Sterling.” According to Comeau, the word had shown up in various forms between 25 and 30 times. “It is spelled ‘Johnson apostrophe s,’ so it can mean…either sterling silver, bright and shiny or Sterling for the mountain. It’s kind of a play on words so we liked that version the best.”

While the store is scheduled to open Oct. 1, Comeau is hoping to push the date ahead and open the store to the community as soon as possible.