Caroga Lakeview Store up and running
CAROGA LAKE — Certain events and movements involving trucks are the reasons why Mike Monks purchased the old Grooms Store last winter and reopened it as the Caroga Lakeview Store.
In the summer of 2020, while Monks and his girlfriend, Melinda Manzer, sold meals out of a food truck at Driftwood Park alongside Great Sacandaga Lake, they discussed quitting their full-time jobs and jointly working in a place that was permanently affixed to the ground.
“I always found I couldn’t work with my significant other,” Manzer recalled recently, “but we were in synch when we ran the food truck.”
The couple needed to decide on a form of commerce and where to open for business.
Monks, 54, a salesman for a Johnstown building supplies company, noticed an increase in trade from customers in and around the hamlet of Caroga Lake.
“We went from shipping one truck a week to this area to basically one every day, and some days twice,” he said. “We saw a huge growth in the area.”
Available for purchase was the former Grooms Store, a market which also sold gasoline and had shut its doors a few years earlier. Monks and Manzer visited the property and imagined the possibilities.
“We started cleaning up out back the first time we stopped by here,” Manzer said.
Monks closed on the purchase in January and quit his sales job on Feb. 1. He then spent two months renovating the building, including updating the refrigeration and lighting systems, and installing a large countertop he made from local pine.
“We had no guidance on where to buy products,” Monks said. “You’re trying to do a remodel but you’re also trying to educate yourself on where to buy things.”
The dormant convenience store at 2043 State Highway 10 became active again on April 1.
“Everything is starting to settle and it’s not as stressful,” Manzer said. “It took a minute because we never did any of this type of work.”
She then went back outside to the food truck, Dockside Eats, which has been relocated to the convenience store’s parking lot. It will remain the primary source of meals until the store kitchen is ready for use, later this month. Manzer makes dozens of trips back and forth, from the store to the food truck, every day.
“I’m the owner,” Monks said, “but she does everything, so she might as well be.”
Monks, with more than 30 years’ experience selling building materials, and Manzer, with decades spent working in nursing, both were used to providing customer service but the marathon hours involved with the store’s operation were something new.
Caroga Lakeview Store is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. Monks and Manzer are the only employees. They live in residential quarters at the back of the store.
“When you work 120 hours a week and you have no travel time to get to work, it’s a huge bonus,” Monks said. When the kitchen is fully opened, he expects to hire two full-time employees.
Increasing food offerings became a primary focus for Monks after the store’s temporary beer license expired at the end of May. Monks said a backlog at the State Liquor Authority, caused by COVID-19, delayed the store’s permanent license from being issued, via email, on July 2.
“Not having that license during the summer probably took $3,000 a week of revenue out of our pocket,” he said. “I said to Melinda that it was time to concentrate on food. Let’s concentrate on something we can do instead of what we can’t do.”
Convenience-store pizza can be inedible, especially after it becomes petrified from spending time in a countertop warmer case. Monks said the pies from his store will not be standard roadside fare.
“Pizza-making is an art and one of Melinda’s sons is a pizza maker, and he’ll come in and be running that kitchen,” Monks said. “We will be known for our pizza and our food.”
Retail businesses like Caroga Lakeview Store depend on a high sales volume to generate profits. While he chatted with a visitor on a recent Saturday morning, Monks checked out over a dozen customers. None of the transactions topped $15. Margins on gasoline and groceries are small, but higher on foods which are made in-house.
“Once we get the food going, those average sales, I’m hoping, will go to $35,” Monks said.
The contemporary retail model for a convenience store favors larger buildings designed to showcase more inventory. Monks said he may add additional products to his store’s shelves, but does not plan to push the shelves closer together. The lanes between them are wide.
“We’ve got an open floor plan,” he said. “We don’t want people to feel like they’re rubbing up against each other. We just want people to feel at home.”