DALTON – Two months after his unexpected entry into the food market business, George Slocum had thoughts about the industry known for its high competition and low profit margins.
“It’s not brain science to run a grocery store,” Slocum said. “But there are a lot of things you need to know.”
Slocum’s Market opened at 111 W. Main St., replacing the Dalton Country Store, which had operated at that location for many years under different owners.
Slocum has owned the building for about seven years. He said the last operator of the store, his tenant, surprised him just after the first of the year by giving short notice and walking away from the business.
The decision to almost immediately reopen the store – but under a new name – was driven by simple economic considerations.
“I needed the rent money from the store to pay the mortgage,” Slocum said. “I have four apartments upstairs. Those apartments pay all the other expenses here. They pay the taxes, the garbage bill, the sewer bill and the water bill.”
An area resident since 1967 and a longtime patron of the market, Slocum has refocused the business on its deli and meat departments. He said meats and sandwiches are what brought people through the door for decades, and the two lines are what will keep the enterprise sustainable. His first hire was a butcher.
“We make everything fresh,” Slocum said. “We grind our own hamburger. We grind our own sausage. We have our own smoker out back. We smoke everything right here on the premises.”
Since the opening, Slocum has hired two part-time employees to work the cash register and help in the deli. He now has a staff of four, and said he’s looking to add to the payroll.
“We’ve almost doubled or tripled the daily volume,” Slocum said. “We’re coming back.”
Coffee is sold by the cup and sandwiches are made to order. Slocum is surprised by how many people buy their lunches from his deli. Some customers choose to sit at tables near the front of the store and enjoy their purchases while talking to others or watching traffic moving about on Dalton’s main drag.
Small grocery carts made of green plastic are kept near the entrance door. Customers will unhitch one and push it around the store, but Slocum said this market is not the type where shoppers usually bring carts heaped with merchandise through the checkout counter.
“We’re a convenient deli. I like to phrase it that way,” he said. “We’re just trying to become a convenience store. So, if you run out of eggs, you come down here instead of driving to Clarks Summit or wherever.”
Slocum’s Market will never be a big-box food superstore, but Slocum has expanded its offering of groceries. He added items sourced from area suppliers – and now sells honey from Meshoppen, candy from Dunmore and baked goods from Scranton.
“We try to take care of the local businesses, also, along with us,” Slocum said.
The recent closure of Ray’s Market in Factoryville prompted Slocum to add more dry and canned goods to the shelves. Many elderly customers, according to Slocum, want to do much of their food shopping while remaining close to home.
The store, which opens every morning at 7 and closes in the afternoon during the weekend, closes at 6 p.m. weeknights, although, Slocum Said, the hours may be lengthened to allow more customers to shop after work.
Slocum spent most of his professional life working in construction and maintenance. In the 1970s, he helped knock down a wall between the store and the then-library – work which resulted in a larger store. He does not spend time online, but Slocum’s Market has a Facebook page, maintained by Slocum’s son and the deli manager, that alerts the social media community about the store’s daily specials.
Many people, from borough officials to townspeople curious about what he’s done with the business, have told Slocum it’s important that a food market remain in Dalton. He has developed a ready reply to their remarks.
“My comeback always is, if you people support me, I’ll stay here,” Slocum said. “If you don’t support me, I will lock the door. It’s a very simple process.”