JOHNSTOWN — There is little noticeable commerce on South Melcher Street in the city of Johnstown. The area is mostly where people live — in two-family apartments, row houses built long ago from the same plans, buildings with bunches of gas meters outside which signify the multiple apartments within, ranch houses, modular houses, and the campus of an assisted-living facility.
Mathews Hometown Market, the only store on the street, does not seem out of place because the owner resides above where she works. Except for the neon “OPEN” sign, blue awning and a waving “OPEN” flag, the white building is not incongruous with the street.
“We’re just your neighborhood convenience store,” said Suzie Mathews, standing at the front counter on a recent afternoon.
“It’s more of a deli,” said her husband, Mike, making a sub sandwich on a food preparation table behind his spouse and store’s proprietor.
“Yes,” Suzie Mathews said. “It’s a deli. We do subs and we make our own salads.”
She peered into a refrigerated case and reported the day’s production of potato salad was nearly gone, and the macaroni salad had sold out an hour earlier.
Operating a store in a residential area, as opposed to one on a commercial strip, means that Mathews sees many of her customers more than once a day. Instead of bundling into a car for a special trip, they walk to the store. And if they need something else, they can easily make a return visit.
“I’d say 80 percent of my customers walk here,” Mathews said.
A young woman, Autumn Edwards, pulled bottles of Gatorade and Mountain Drew from one of the store’s coolers. A few days prior, she had taken up residence with a relative.
“I never really knew this place was here until I moved over to my aunt’s, across the street,” Edwards said. “It’s easy to come here.”
Checking lottery tickets on a scanner next to the deli case, Justin Sanford said he lived about a quarter of a mile away from Mathews Hometown Market. He’s a firefighter for the city.
“I’m probably a daily customer here,” he said. “I’ve pretty much turned my entire family onto this store, along with neighbors, my significant other — everybody.”
Suzie Mathews smiled and nodded her head.
Mathews Hometown Market opened in April 2011, but the building has functioned as a store for at least 50 years. A grainy monochrome photograph posted on the market’s Facebook page shows 9 Melcher St. in 1972 when it was Doherty’s Grocery, and the small front parking lot had a gas pump, an air pump, and a Coke machine.
The gasoline and air fixtures are long gone, and now soft drinks are only sold from a wall of coolers inside the store.
Mike Mathews works for Benjamin Moore and his construction of submarine sandwiches was a donation of time to his wife on a day off. Before his employment with the Johnstown branch of the paint company, he had worked for Stewart’s Shops and Finkle Distributors. In Maine, his parents had owned two stores that sold sporting goods.
“I knew the retail side of it,” Mike Mathews said of his business experience. “I’d been in retail all my life.”
While selling for Finkle, one of his retail accounts was Snuffy’s — a deli and store at 9 Melcher St. The owner had health problems, Mike Mathews recalled, and the man’s sister later took over the business after the owner died.
“When she said she was going to sell the business, I asked if she would mind if I put in a bid,” Mike Mathews said. “And she said she would love it if I did.”
Suzie Mathews had operated a deli in Fort Plain. It was a small operation that did not sell beer and was close to some chain convenience stores. Suzie’s Deli was later sold, but its former owner listened with interest when her husband suggested they buy Snuffy’s, remodel and expand its retail floorspace, and reopen the place under Suzie’s ownership and management.
The owner’s sister, Amy Lawrence, is the store’s other employee.
“Business,” Suzie Mathews said, “is pretty steady.”
The store opens at 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday and is closed on Sundays.
There have been changes to Mathews Hometown Market since 2011. A few tables remain on the floor. Nearly a dozen years ago, there were many tables and sit-down meals were prepared from breakfast through dinner. The volume was low, according to the owner, and the foods that were ordered were usually for takeout.
“Basically, we learned what everybody wants,” Suzie Mathews said. “We try to do that — to get you in, and get you out.”
Sales of sub sandwiches are responsible for the largest segment of revenues, she added. Deli meats and cheeses are sliced and sold to customers, but most of the slicing is for use on store-bought sandwiches.
The second-largest segment is from sales of beer and soft drinks. Other revenues are earned from sales of pizza, fried foods and a limited stock of grocery items.
Mathews Hometown Market has no competition on S. Melcher St., but Johnstown is not a large place, and some chain convenience stores are nearby. Suzie Mathews said her store has an advantage because staff turnover is nonexistent.
“We’re more personable,” she said. “We know most everybody that walks in the door. You get a rapport with people.”
Mike Mathews answered the store telephone before the second ring. A customer wanted three subs — two large and a small — to be picked up in 15 minutes. Suzie Mathews said goodbye to a visitor so the spouses could fulfill the order.
“This is what we do,” she said. “This is our work.”