After more than 60 years, a small grocery and convenience store important to the population who remained when other downtown commerce fled closed its doors for the last time Friday.
For the last few decades the Handy Market, which is across from the Fox Theater in the New Madison building, has served mostly poor customers in the surrounding few blocks. Many of those shoppers lived upstairs , or next door in the Commercial Building or Otis Hotel. All three structures are being vacated for major renovations that will bring more upscale development.
Nancy Feinberg, who bought the Handy Market only weeks before getting an eviction notice, said she’s grown to respect her customers.
“They are very loving, kind, caring low-income people,” Feinberg said. “They’re basic, good people.”
Some shoppers barely have enough money to get by, but when she accidentally gave them too much change they would let her know, she said.
Otis resident John Farless said the market is important to those nearby, especially older or disabled tenants who can’t walk to the closest full-size grocery – the Rosauers in Browne’s Addition.
“Almost everybody comes here that lived in the Otis and New Madison,” said Farless, adding that he’ll miss the store’s friendly atmosphere.
Chris Batten, a principle owner of RenCorp, which is redeveloping the New Madison, said the building’s infrastructure is too far gone to keep the market operational while it is remodeled for an expected spring opening. RenCorp has allowed an art gallery to stay because its placement allows it to be worked around, he said.
Doug Zimmerman, who sold the market to Feinberg after owning it for 33 years, said customers often used food stamps to buy grocery items, but about half the purchases were beer or cigarettes. Despite the neighborhood’s seedy reputation, he had a positive experience with customers.
“I was friends with most of them, not buddy-buddy friends, but friends on a business level,” said Zimmerman, who drives trucks for The Spokesman-Review.
The Handy Market has been listed in the city directory since the mid-1940s and was first located cater-corner from the New Madison. The store later moved to the Otis. Zimmerman brought it to its final location at New Madison about a dozen years ago.
Feinberg said she was misled when she bought the business and signed a month-to-month lease for the New Madison. “I would not have gotten into this mess,” she said.
Zimmerman and Batten, however, said they made it clear that there wasn’t a long-term future in the spot and that she could be forced to move anytime because of redevelopment plans.
Feinberg next plans to run a store in Reardan. “I’m not looking back. I hate looking back anyway,” she said. “This has been a good experience, a very expensive experience.”
Besides the Handy Market, one other New Madison business is moving this week because of the redevelopment of the building.
Awards by A.Ward is moving to the old Loulou’s Ski Chalet east of downtown at Pacific and Sherman.
Owner Alicia Ward said the new location will be more convenient for those picking up trophies and other orders because the location has ample free parking. More importantly, she won’t have to worry about flooding from broken pipes above – a constant threat she’s dealt with in the New Madison.
“I’m happy that I won’t be plagued with the problems of an older building,” she said.