WESTERLY — When the Chickadee Farms property in Dunn’s Corners was sold to the Westerly Community Credit Union in the 1980s, residents were not ready to let go of their local market. At the urging of many loyal customers, two of the store’s employees decided to turn the closing into an opportunity to start their own grocery.
Now, owners Tony and Cheryl Spino are preparing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of business success at Dunn’s Corners Market, which first opened on May 5, 1989. “The community has been good to us and we want to thank them for their many years of support,” Cheryl Spino said with tears in her eyes as she recalled two Westerly residents who were instrumental in their new business, Bill Lane and Finn Casperson.
“They would have done whatever they needed to do to make it happen,” she said. “We owe this all to them. They were like family.”
The two men have died but both their wives still frequent the market.
To show their appreciation to Lane, Casperson and the rest of their customer base, the Spinos have organized a 25th anniversary sale from May 2 to 4, with discounts and savings on a variety of items.
Sitting in their second-floor office, the Spinos described the transformation they have witnessed as their business grew from a small start-up to a beloved institution in town.
“We built this place from the ground up, literally,” said Tony Spino, recalling the nine months beginning in 1988 that he and his wife worked with local contractors to transform an empty lot into a commercial building and parking lot.
When the market opened, the operation was staffed almost entirely by family members, and there were around 10 full- and part-time workers.
Now it employs 28 year-round workers, with additional help during the summer and a staff of 10 to 12 for its off-site catering services, which began 10 years ago.
“The hardest part at first was just the uncertainty of it all,” said Tony Spino. “We were young and we didn’t know what to expect.”
The couple faced their next big hurdle with the arrival of Walmart in Westerly.
“They said we wouldn’t make it,” Cheryl Spino said.
They said their secret to success has been their commitment to their customers and creating a friendly atmosphere. “Knowing our customers and trying to meet their requests is key,” Tony Spino said. “Our customers are like family, We know most of them on a first-name basis.”
He also noted that their business was the first to offer prepared foods to go, an undertaking that began after major renovations in 2004, including a new kitchen, coolers and the second-floor office space. The business space was upgraded again last year with a generator, air conditioning and new food cases.
Quality food, including a wide selection of fresh meat, also kept customers coming back to their market, since some other area groceries offered only packaged meat. Cheryl said
TV celebrity Regis Philbin proclaimed their hamburger the best he ever had when dining at a friend’s home in Westerly last summer.
Many local customers also praised the meat selections.
James and Delores Sheldon, of Hopkinton, have been buying meat and deli items from the market for 10 years.
“The meatballs are the best,” James Sheldon said.
Irene Mitchell, of Westerly, also noted that the service behind the meat counter and throughout the store is excellent. “I always come here for my meat,” she said. “You can’t beat it.”
From May 2 to 4, all store prices will end in the number 25, from $2.50 per pound of meat to 25 cent items. Raffle items will be featured throughout the three-day sale event, with drawings on Sunday, May 4, as well as food samples and giveaways including Red Sox and Yankee tickets.
A portion of the sales from Saturday, May 3, will benefit a local homeless family through the Dunn’s Corners Community Church. Sales will also support the “Dream Ride” program, a national organization that raises money for Special Olympics.