Published April 26. 2014 4:00AM
Family-run Dunns Corners Market thrives despite nearby chains
Westerly - Tony Spino still remembers the doubters.
"People told us we would not make it," the owner of the Dunns Corners Market recalled.
"They told us the big stores would swallow us up," added his wife, Cheryl Spino. "But here we are, 25 years later, still doing what we do," she said.
From May 2-4, the Spinos will celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of their independent, family-run grocery store at 5 Langworthy Road in the Dunns Corners section of town.
To mark the milestone, the market will offer specials such as littleneck clams for a quarter each, Virginia baked ham at $2.50 a pound, and gourmet potato salad for $2.50 a quart. There also will be promotional deals, tastings, raffles and giveaways.
A portion of the store's sales on May 3 will be donated to the local Family Housing Support project and the Dream Ride/Special Olympics.
It's a celebration for the Spinos and their employees, who have weathered the infusion of big-box stores (a Wal-Mart Supercenter just across the street and Super Stop & Shop just down the road) and the Great Recession of 2007.
They have adapted with the times, adding more healthy and nutritious products as customers have requested them, and expanding about a decade ago to include a kitchen where ready-to-go meals like meatloaf, shepherd's pie and liver and onions are prepared daily. They also do a big lunchtime business, with contractors and other workers stopping by for sandwiches, salads and hot dishes.
The Spinos attribute their longevity and success to the personal service they provide, the high quality of their products, and the ease of shopping at their store.
The market is known for its butcher shop - where meat is trimmed and cut on request and the hamburger is freshly ground five or six times a day.
"We have a tray of hamburg and we cut and grind more when it's gone. We're cutting and filling all day long," Tony Spino said.
There's always a butcher on duty at the Dunns Corners Market, and shoppers routinely ask what kind of roast or cut they should buy, how much they will need and how it should be prepared.
The meatball mix is a big seller, as well as the cheddar and bacon stuffed hamburgers, marinated skirt steak and store-made hot and sweet sausage.
There's a full-service supermarket - albeit a small one - where all the typical supermarket items can be found, including produce, seafood, a deli and bakery. And every day, artisan breads are delivered from a bakery in the Bronx.
Today, Tony and Cheryl's son, Chris, works alongside his parents, primarily handling technology issues including ordering and pricing. His father runs the front of the house - the market and butcher shop - and his mother tends to the books and human resources issues. All told, the business employs 28 full- and part-time employees in the market and another dozen in its catering division, which can service any function up to 400 people.
Cheryl Spino said it seems like only yesterday when the couple opened the doors of their business on May 5, 1989.
Both had been employees at the old Chickadee Farms in Dunns Corners, and when that business closed, they were persuaded by faithful customers who wanted to see a small, independent grocery store continue in the neighborhood. Two of the customers even offered to finance the business, but the Spinos partnered with Broad View Garden Center and together built the plaza that includes both businesses with financing from Washington Trust.
Both the market and garden center continue to thrive.
"We just keep doing what we do best, and customers have been loyal," Cheryl Spino said.
And the Spinos have been loyal to the community. They are active in Chamber of Commerce initiatives and have stepped in to provide food and beverages to emergency responders and volunteers who helped to clean up after last year's major storms.
But they are grateful for their business and their ability to grow and change it with the times. Memorial Day is almost here, and that means the busy summer season for the Dunns Corners Market.
"We'll be busy now," Cheryl Spino said. "But in the off season, we will find some time to get away and relax."