By Jasmine Willis
COHOCTON — For nearly five decades everyone knew the familiar taste of a freshly baked roll, fresh cut meat, and the one-of-a-kind subs from a local grocery and deli.
Carey’s Grocery was never just another small-town grocery store nestled deep in the valley. It stood as a beacon for many who saw it as a place to go for a conversation, to work, to shop, to have a good meal, and to get a good local beer.
On Feb. 13 the community had their last Carey’s Sub, shared stories about the past, and closed the doors on the last surviving small-town shop of its kind in the area.
Tim and Rhonda Carey sat down with this local reporter to reminisce about days gone by as what remains of the store’s inventory collected around us.
Tim Carey purchased the grocery store previously owned by Harry Glodney, in February 1974. It was opened and changed to Carey’s Grocery Store in May 1974. The 13 Maple Ave. property soon bustled to life once again with an expansion to the other building next door. It became a much larger grocery store to accommodate the deli and a larger shopping area. These old properties combined made a huge impact on the business as it was booming in the 1980s and 90s.
“The owner before I bought the property, Harry Glodney, had died in a fire in his apartment. The store was vacant before I bought it in 1974. I had been working at Ford Motors in California, and when I came back didn’t know anything about working in a store. My sister Nancy and brother Billy helped me out a lot. My mom and dad helped me out a lot in the start as well. My father worked at the Bath VA Hospital,” Tim Carey said. “It took a long time for us to develop the business. Rhonda came on and helped me in 1975. We turned the vacant lot next to us into an addition for the grocery and expanded. That was when the village was really growing. We had a large plant here that employed around 100 people and that was really good for business.”
Tim Carey mentioned a furniture and carpet store that was across the street from the grocery in the 1990s that employed many locals. It was a great place to live, work, and raise a family. There was plenty of retail, banks, pharmacy, hardware, and places to thrive in the community. Now it has all seemed to slip away as we sat in the remains of Carey’s Grocery talking about the booming days of Cohocton.
“We had a lot of people show up in the last week with signs thanking us for our dedication to the village. There was a lot of people thanking us on our Facebook page, and telling us we deserved a break after 47 years of service,” Tim Carey said. “Rhonda and I had to be dedicated to the job. We didn’t get very many vacations. We were working 80 to 60 hours a week to keep the store going. We did it all for the customers. It was always about the customers. We are very thankful for them. We want them to know we have appreciated them all very much. We couldn’t have been here this long without them.”
Rhonda Carey mentioned some of the employees they had over the long decades of hiring young people. Jeanne Wise was the longest employee they had with 20 years of service. She was a huge asset to the grocery store if they ever needed her to come back to help out.
“We hired a lot of young people over the years. Many of them told us this was the best job they ever had. We were always fair to our employees,” she said.
Rhonda Carey said the grocery store won some contests over the decades from the suppliers. She has a scrapbook of memories with awards, Superbowl ads, employee photos, deli photos, and other memorabilia.
Tim Carey was known as being the butcher in town with his fresh cut meats at the deli every day. He had the best Italian Sausages, steaks, and deli meats in town. When anyone came back home from a long way at college, or overseas, or moved back they would be sure to grab a famous taste of home. The Carey Subs caught on quick as being the main focus of the deli along with wing night.
“When the windmills were coming to town, we had a surge in business again. We had another two-year boom. The workers loved us since we opened early at 6 a.m. and would have a breakfast sandwich for them. They would come to us for lunch and dinner. We were doing really well, and the hot food orders kept us going strong,” Tim Carey said.
Over the years it became a generational home away from home. The Carey’s saw children grow up and have children of their own come into the store. They loved watching the community grow over the years.
The Carey’s had a family-owned business for 47 years with Tim and Rhonda, children Dylan, Katrina and Krista, and siblings Nancy, Billy and Tom all working together to make it the special place it was to so many people.
“We accomplished this for the village. It was never about making a million dollars. It was about caring for the customers. We started out delivering groceries to the elderly in the community, and we loved doing that for the people we grew up knowing. We both grew up in Cohocton. We graduated from Cohocton Central. We wanted to do something to give back to the elderly who were shut ins,” Tim Carey said. “My brother Billy would help us deliver the groceries to the elderly around the village. He would always come back with a lot of stories. We know how hard it is for people. There are a lot of people still who don’t have a vehicle and depend on these things.”
Tim Carey mentioned the Five Star Bank ATM next to them is going to be taken next and it was not their choice. It was up to the bank to decide to take the ATM. This will make it hard on local people without transportation who depend on that machine to pay bills and rent.
In the last year the downfall of small business has been a landslide with Covid-19 on the rise and no end in sight. This ongoing pandemic contributed to the downfall of Carey’s Grocery. Corporate greed took care of the rest with the Dollar General opening and taking away business and suppliers.
Carey’s Grocery had a hard time keeping up with the prices and demands of suppliers. Many suppliers dropped them without warning in favor of more revenue. Tim Carey mentioned all the licenses needed to keep up with the store and how it all got to be overbearing with Covid-19 restrictions.
“Many people can’t find work anymore, so they are working and shopping outside of town. The Covid-19 really killed us too. In our ages we didn’t feel safe letting people off the highway come into the store. We were taking orders over the phone just to get by, but it all became too much for us. People started out afraid to go anywhere. After a while they started going out again. We did have some things that other stores didn’t have, and that worked in our favor for a while,” Rhonda Carey said. “We were able to get huge bags of flour and I would break that up to sell in smaller bags. I did manage to get a lot of eggs. We were back to reinventing the wheel. We did that a lot in this business.”
In the glory days of Carey’s Grocery there was about eight kegs on tap of local craft beers, two cash registers, a full deli shop, coffee and cappuccino, DVD and Video rentals, and everything you needed for the comforts of home. The store even sold bulk candies.
Tim Carey started out in the early 1970s making his famous subs for the Cohocton Fall Festival as the only food vendor. He sold about 500 subs in those days. When he brought his famous subs to the deli shop all those customers followed. He gained many more over the decades.
“We always had very happy customers. I will never forget that. We had very few complaints the whole time we were in business. Consistency was always important to us. We wanted to make it the way the customers wanted it,” he said. “We always had people come back. We had people tell us that their son was fighting in Iraq and all he could think about was wanting another Carey’s Sub. We would hear stories like that all of the time. People really loved our subs and wings. Our wings were always fresh too.”
The Carey’s pride themselves on giving the youth of Cohocton a chance to have strong work ethic and be at times their first job. They taught them respect, ethics, and integrity.
In the near future The Carey’s would like to have a proper send off for those who made the store a second home.
Before it was Carey’s Grocery it was owned by Glodney, Becker’s, McWaters, Mattoon’s, and Adriance’s. The store next to 13 Maple Ave. was previously Carbrey Market, Gus Pappas Ice Cream, and Newton’s Variety Store.
According to a newsletter article by Don Mattoon, his father’s Mattoon Market was purchased from The McWaters. They bought it from Hattie Becker, back when the store looked like something straight out of “Little House on the Prairie.”
Don Mattoon recalled the store being a home away from home in his day as well. It remained a place to butcher fine meats for locals to enjoy. A slaughterhouse was out back for the butchery of chickens, cows, pigs, and the like. Don was paid $5 a week for cleaning up the meat block and equipment at his parents’ shop. He used his hard-earned cash wisely taking it to the Shanley’s Soda Bar for an ice cream sundae every Sunday. In 1953 The Mattoon’s sold the shop and moved to Wayland. Don Mattoon recalls his childhood at the grocery store as a fond time that cannot be replaced or taken away.
It seems as though in every era of this little grocery store’s time capsule it has been a place of fondness, good food, and fine people. The future of this old building has yet to be determined. The Carey’s still own the property.