It was a year unlike any other for Sue Cirencione, who took over the Big M grocery store in downtown Ovid last February. It’s been a year, and less than a month after taking ownership and leading the day-to-day operations?—?a once-in-a-century pandemic landed at her doorstep.
Obviously, the pandemic was not a unique challenge for Cirencione’s grocery store. But it underscored and added to the list of challenges that the store would undoubtedly face. Her father opened the Big M in 1970. She grew up in the store, around many of the workers and community members who walked through those doors. The store serves most of South Seneca, as well as some of the surrounding rural communities within a short drive.
“Some days it feels like I never left,” Cirencione recalled. “Other days my body tells me I’m getting old. I feel very fortunate. The community has embraced us throughout the pandemic and have really lifted us up.” In October, the store celebrated its 50 year anniversary. “My entire family came for the event as well as employees from years past — it was a beautiful week.”
It has been a combination of difficult and rewarding. “The changing mandates, concern for employees and customers, frustrations with supply and demand issues and of coursemasks,” she said of the challenges. Those challenges led to more business, which meant the ability to reinvest in a space where many were just trying to survive. “We were able to reinvest in the store and make numerous upgrades and improvements.” The store has new floors, which Cirencione said is by far the best thing they finished in 2020, as well as new registers with a modern operating system, as well as updated aisle signs and awning out front. She said they also went all-in decorating for the holidays. “Just wait until next year, though,” she joked.?
A grocery store in a village of approximately 540 residents can only survive if it has strong bonds with the community. That is what Cirencione said continues to make the biggest difference. “This community has been amazing,” she said. “They have embraced me, our team, and our causes. Our Breast Cancer fundraising for Thrive to Survive and our Christmas Food/Gift Boxes fundraising months were truly mind blowing. The community really stepped up to the plate financially, with donations of food, product, etc. and so much more.”
She described it as feeling a sense of “awe.” “I believe we need the community and I sure hope they feel they need us,” she added. “We can’t survive without them.” Keeping the community safe has been top priority for Cirencione, who said keeping up with changing expectations for businesses was a big challenge. The team was up for it though. “Trying to abide by the mandates and keeping everyone feeling safe?—?customers and employees?—?was not easy. But we did it, and that’s what’s important.”
She said there was a moment during the holiday season that sticks out as her fondest memory. “We raised over $800 for the Christmas food program in the first day,” she recalled. “It was so overwhelming and anyone who knows me, knows I love Christmas, so this was just a great project.” More than $3,600 was collected for food baskets during the holiday season. Of that, $3,200 was donated back to the community via baskets, with the remaining $400 being donated to the food pantries in South Seneca.
It was a fitting way to end 2020 and begin the new year. Now, Cirencione and team embark on their own milestone?—?year two of operation.