Noank couple now runs the local packy
Mike and Mary Edgerton loved the neighborhood feel of the Universal Package Store in Noank village.
It was a place where you met your neighbors, where you could ask the owner about a new bottle of wine or get a recommendation on the latest beer from a micro brewer.
It was a cozy place, with ties in the village going back to the early 1940s - often a second stop among those who shopped at the Universal Food Store right next door.
They loved it so much, in fact, that they bought the business on Pearl Street from longtime owner Matt Fay.
"We are thrilled to be business owners in Noank, the place we love, and also where we live," says Mary Edgerton. "I work here full time - and then some," she says of her new role as shop proprietor with her husband Mike, who is still working full time as a scientist with Monsanto's Mystic research facility. He often comes in after work to help out, and Mary Edgerton says he serves as the beer aficionado, since he also is a home brewer of beer.
It is the Noank couple's first foray into the world of retail liquor sales, and the timing just seemed right for both of them. Mary Edgerton's background includes fundraising, public relations and publications, while her husband has an extensive background in the sciences.
"We're empty nesters," she explains, adding that the couple's daughter has already graduated college and hopes to be a professional musician after finishing her graduate studies. She says that she told Judi Caracausa, the broker/owner of Market Realty LLC, that whenever the former shop owner wanted to sell the business, she and her husband were very interested in buying it. Both sides agreed, and Caracausa represented both parties in the real estate transaction.
The deal was completed by Labor Day, and the couple now run the liquor business and own the three-story building at 19 Pearl St., which includes a two-story apartment above the store and a retail store called Mona Lisa's right next store, which sells antiques and related items to benefit animal-welfare efforts.
The Universal Package Store has been a fixture on Pearl Street, just off Main Street in the quaint Noank village, for more than six decades. Edgerton says that she, and others in the village, lamented the closing of the Universal Food Store over Labor Day weekend, saying it provided a steady stream of customers who would stop there first for food or the store's various specialties, from its freshly made pizzas to its well-regarded meat and deli counter.
"Like everyone else in Noank, we feel a tremendous loss - we miss the terrific people who worked at Universal, and we miss the convenience of having such a great food store right next door," she says.
Edgerton hopes the store will soon reopen under new ownership but says the liquor store has a loyal clientele of Noank customers and others, including those from the many shipyards around the area.
The couple doesn't expect to make many changes to the venerable business, but Mary Edgerton says they are starting wine-and-beer tasting events on Friday nights from 5 to 8 p.m. and do plan to expand some of the shop's offerings.
"Matt Fay, who has owned the store for the last fifteen years, did a wonderful job of finding great wines at reasonable prices," says Edgerton. "We plan to continue the tradition."
The store has two part-timers, including Frank Bean, who has worked there for the past 10 years. Bean, who retired as a teacher of 30-plus years at Norwich Free Academy, says he enjoys the work of keeping the store stocked, busily sorting the beers in the walk-in cooler and keeping an inventory of the wine, beer and spirits stocked in the shop's back room. "It's only part time, but it keeps me busy," he says.
Edgerton says that Bean is an integral part of the store, providing much-needed advice and ensuring continuity as the shop evolves under the new ownership. She also says that Fay, the former owner, served as a wonderful coach during the transition in ownership. Mary Edgerton, along with the couple's daughter, worked at the shop over the summer with Fay learning the business. "He's been really, really great," she says of the former owner.
The couple has been pleased by the local reaction to their purchase of the liquor store business and the building housing it at 19 Pearl St., which dates back to 1891. "There's a very loyal group of Noank people here, who are just fantastic," says Edgerton. "And they're all thrilled that we're here (as new shop owners)."
"This is my best job yet," she says, surveying the liquor shop, which features a walk-in type refrigerator holding a broad range of beers, from the best sellers to micro brews. Along its walls are shelves featuring fine wines and spirits and the center of the shop also includes well-stocked wine offerings. The shop also sells individual cans and bottles of beer and small bottles of spirits, which Edgerton says are often bought by those heading toward the popular Abbott's Lobster in the Rough just down Pearl Street from the liquor store.
The shop is decorated with nautical knickknacks, in keeping with the seaside village's nautical heritage. The couple found one of the original liquor store signs in the basement and plan to mount it on the side of the building, a testament to the shop's endurance through the many decades. "I love that old sign," says Edgerton.
They also don't plan to change the name, honoring the shop's moniker that's remained the same since the store opened in 1943. "We were longtime patrons here," says Edgerton. Buying the shop, and the accompanying building, reflects, she says, "the next chapter in our lives."