Much has been made of the supply chain crisis and the impact of rising fuel costs on grocery stores. For Ovid Big M owner Sue Cirencione, these issues are just salt in the wound amid the ongoing struggle to stay competitive as a small business.
Cirencione bought Big M just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It marked a return to its roots – Cirencione’s father, Jim McKee, founded the grocery store in 1970 and ran it until his retirement in 2014. Cirencione bought the business from the man to whom his father sold it on March 1, 2020.
“We had to figure out how we were going to accommodate people who just didn’t want to come out. We offered curbside service and adapted through all the different changes and mandates,” says Cirencione. “Now, as we come out of [the pandemic,] With inflation, supply and demand issues, competition and the closure of Willard, our daily struggle is to sell products that are affordable to the community we live in.
Previously, there were three Big M locations within 20 miles of the Ovid store. That of Cirencione is the only one left. In fact, Ovid Big M is one of only two independent grocery stores still in operation in Seneca County, the other being Sauders in Seneca Falls.
Big business climate change, small business struggling
When issues such as rising fuel prices, inflation, and business slowdown due to unemployment arise, large companies can often absorb these costs without significantly hurting their bottom line. For Ovid Big M, these issues are making it increasingly difficult to stay afloat.
“It’s not just the fact that the gas has gone up. This generation pays by credit card, right? There are a lot of associated costs that we don’t pass on, but have to absorb,” says Cirencione.
Another cost that Cirencione’s business absorbs is the surcharge for paper bags.
“I always sarcastically tell people, ‘You know, Wegmans and Walmart charge for the bags, but we don’t.’ They make millions and billions of dollars every year,” observes Cirencione.
Besides grocery chains, dollar stores and food pantries are also competitors. Cirencione says she’s grateful that Wegmans sends truckloads of groceries to the local food pantry every week, but the competition is something she needs to acknowledge.
“I looked at what my father went through in the 80s, when interest rates were at 15% and [Seneca Army Depot] was closing, the psychiatric center was closing. He went through it all, but luckily for him, Walmart didn’t sell groceries. Dollar stores didn’t even exist. Nobody did Instacart, there was no Hello Fresh,” she recalls.
Points of sale, exploration of new customer avenues
Currently, Cirencione plans to reduce the number of weekly truck shipments to the store from three to two, as rising fuel costs are passed on to the store through delivery surcharges.
“All the profits we made, we reinvested in the store,” says Cirencione.
One of the main selling points of Ovid Big M is the variety of products it offers. When you shop in store, you have a wide selection of brands to choose from. Another perk is its offerings on meats, as well as on-site charcuterie.
Cirencione says she started making deliveries to Willard’s drug treatment center before it closed last week and continues to deliver to guards at Five Points Correctional Center in Romulus.
“We really are in a food desert. If the store closes, people don’t have as much access to that stuff. I have received letters of support from Senator Pam Helming and the House which are helping me tremendously,” Cirencione says, referring to the Seneca County House, of which she is a member. “Little by little, I am improving things. People love floors. We installed the automatic doors during COVID.
Small improvements can go a long way in pleasing customers. When you walk into Ovid Big M, this is one of the first things you notice: the spotless cleanliness of the store, the shine of the floors. It’s clear how proud Cirencione and its employees are to maintain standards in the store.
At this point, Cirencione explains, it’s not so much about Big M making a profit. Rather, it is about remaining viable and reducing costs for customers as much as possible.
Hopes for the future
Is Cirencione worried about the closure of the Willard drug treatment center affecting business? She says if Five Points Correctional were to close, it would have a huge impact on the store. But right now, his main concern is what New York State decides to do — or not do — with the Willard property.
“What are they going to do with this land and this beautiful property? It’s next to a beautiful golf course, there’s a waterfront. Are they just going to let it sit and rot, not try to do anything with it? There’s so much potential there,” Cirencione wonders. “And what are the rest of us doing while they’re trying to figure this out?”
His biggest hope is for the state to invest money in the Willard property to turn it into a tourist destination.
“There are so many people flooding here, the Airbnbs are full and there is so much potential. It could generate so much tax revenue. They could really put us on the map and bring a lot of businesses back to Main Street. C “It used to be a very busy town. That’s my hope, because I think the community deserves it. I know they want it. It’s my hope that, you know, something like this happens,” says Cirence.
Yet the Ovid Big M has to face the reality that if nothing is done, if the cost of fuel and products keeps rising, people will be forced to shop elsewhere.
Cirencione says, “I have 30 employees who depend on me to run this place. This is what keeps me up at night. There are days when I just want to say, “Okay, we can’t, it’s really difficult”, right? But these are people who live in this community who depend on an income, and there are also community members who depend on the store.
You can visit Big M at 7174 Main Street in Ovid. Follow the store’s Facebook page to stay up to date on the latest offers and events.
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