PITTSFIELD – This has been a staple in the north of the city for over 100 years, the favorite place for neighborhood residents to shop, a convenient way for shoppers to avoid long lines at supermarkets or big box stores.
“My grandparents probably shopped here,” said Sharon Burnick of Lenox Avenue, referring to Harry’s supermarket at 290 Wahconah St., founded in 1914 and operated by the Nichols family of Pittsfield ever since.
One of the city’s oldest family-owned supermarkets and an adjacent packaging store have been sold to another family-owned business with roots in New York City and other businesses in the Berkshires. The new owners, Sam and Ravikant “Ravi” Patel, bought the Marketplace for $ 750,000 and the Parcel Store, located at 268-274 Wahconah St., for $ 625,000, according to documents filed with the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds .
The Nichols family opened the parcel store when Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and leased it to another group who will continue to operate it. The supermarket sale also includes adjacent land on Belair Avenue.
The Patels, who secured mortgages on both properties with Rockland Trust, plan to leave the two companies as they are – and under the same names.
“It will continue as the same operation,” said Ravi Patel. “We’re not going to change anything other than hiring a few people.”
SRH Realty is the new entity that owns the supermarket while Kalahar Realty LLC owns the parcel store. The resident agent for both entities, Sureshkumar Patel, resides on Lenox Avenue in Pittsfield, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s office. The other directors of the new entities live in New York.
The family also owns a grocery store in New York’s Queens neighborhood and operates three other parcel stores in the Berkshires, in Adams, Great Barrington and Williamstown, said Ravi Patel. He said they were drawn to Harry’s because the business was also family owned. The majority of the store’s 15 employees will be retained, according to Patel and Bob Nichols, co-owner of the supermarket with his cousin, Tom.
“They gave all of my help increases,” said Tom Nichols.
The departing employees plan to retire, Bob said.
Deeds signifying the sale were filed with the Deeds Register on Friday, but two regular shoppers of Harry said on Monday they were unaware the store had been sold. They were both relieved that he had planned to stay open and that no changes had been made.
Burnick, who is 60, said she would continue to patronize Harry’s under the new owner, “if the quality doesn’t suffer because of it.
“It’s convenient for me,” she said.
Nancy Baer, who has worked at Harry’s for 20 years, plans to retire on October 1. Baer said his decision to retire was unrelated to the change in ownership, but said the sale solidified his plans. “It worked that way,” Baer said.
“It’s sad. It’s been in the (Nichols) family for years,” Baer said. “But at least they don’t close it. They keep it open.”
Tom Nichols, who is in charge of Harry’s meat department, and Bob, stay for a while to help with the transition to a new owner.
“I have been here for 48 years,” said Tom. “I came here after high school.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said of the sale of the business. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.”
The cousins had been looking for “the right buyer” for Harry for “some time,” Tom said. They were impressed with the Patels, whom he called “high class” business people.
“They are very nice, hard working people,” he said.
The founder of the company, the late Harry F ‘. Nichols Sr., was a popular guy who was often referred to as the “Mayor of the North End”.
Nichols immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in 1897 and initially opened a grocery and variety store in Pittsfield six months apart in 1914, three years after arriving in the city. The variety store has been transformed into a pharmacy, which no longer exists. The grocery store became a supermarket in 1957. An addition doubled the size of the supermarket in 1967.
Harry’s also opened a second rental space market on Elm Street in the 1990s, but closed it after the owner decided to sell the building.
Working in the various Nichols’ businesses was a family affair. Twenty-six family members were working in the companies on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the market in 1984, and up to 60 had been employed in these companies until that time, according to files from Eagle. Harry F. Nichols Sr., who died in 1960, had nine children and five of his seven sons ended up working for him, including his successor, Harry F. Nichols Jr., who died in 1997.
But interest in continuing the family’s legacy has waned.
“I am the youngest of the owners,” said Bob. “I’m 64, Tommy 66 and our cousin Jim, who helps us, is 69. Basically our kids have all gone in different directions. There is no one behind us arriving.
“What else were we going to do? he said. “If we ever wanted to retire, that was the only option. “
Many small businesses suffered when the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the local economy last year, but Bob said Harry was not one of them.
“It wasn’t that hard,” he said. “Our meat counter has just thrived in this environment and our deli has been just great,” he said. “I feel bad for some of the small businesses (who have struggled), but we have been the opposite.”
However, all of the work cousins had to do because of the pandemic took physical toll.
“We’ve been extremely busy working overtime,” Bob said. “Twelve-hour days have become 18-hour days. We are no longer 25 years old. Before, we could do it. “
Burnick praised the efforts of the Nichols family.
“I appreciate their many decades of hard work and service to the community,” she said. ” I will miss them.