Mark Banks perched atop a tilting ladder above the Fort Plain Save-a-Lot main doors early Wednesday morning, fiddling with a canvas sign.
The store employee zip-tied one corner and unfurled the sign to read “Now Open.”
“It’s good to be back,” he said.
The Fort Plain Save-a-Lot reopened at 8 a.m. Wednesday, 82 days after Otsquago Creek floodwaters raced through the aisles, tossing food, shelves and massive coolers like toy blocks.
Minutes after opening Wednesday, the store’s River Street parking lot was full and people were streaming in the doors. Inside, everything gleamed with newness. The walls, floor, shelves, signs — all new.
Even the layout, though very similar to the old one, is new.
“I can’t find the trash bags,” said shopper Harvey Weaver.
He pushed a cart of canned baked beans and sausage links around, finally giving up the quest for bags.
During the monthslong store closure, the Palatine resident had to visit the local Price Chopper, which he doesn’t like, or drive farther away.
“I’ll get used to the store again if I live long enough,” he said. “I’m 87. I might never find the trash bags.”
Sign hung, Banks donned his red Save-a-Lot polo shirt and cruised around the shiny store pointing out places of major damage and repairs.
“The water was up to here at least,” he said, motioning to a spot on the wall at forehead height. “It pushed the registers all the way to the back of the store.”
In the small hours of June 28, Banks was relaxing in his apartment — which is above the flood plain.
“My friend’s mom called, just panicking,” he said. “I didn’t believe her.”
Later he walked down to his workplace to see a war zone of mud, sticks and rotting food.
Days later, he said, the whole place smelled like dead bodies.
Standing in a clean-smelling store filled with what other employees called a record turnout, the carnage Banks described was difficult to visualize for someone who hadn’t been there.
“Just imagine mud, our coolers shoved around, our meat everywhere. No refrigeration,” he said. “It was bad.”
The entire 82 days was spent cleaning, then rebuilding. Two weeks ago the Save-a-Lot crew started hauling in food. Three days ago the meat coolers, also new, were switched on.
By Wednesday’s opening, it was like Christmas.
Stone Arabia resident Linda Snyder had her cart stocked with many pounds of hamburger, T-bone steak, a full cured ham, pork tenderloin and three big beef roasts.
“You have to look for the marbling,” she said, massaging the cellophane over one of the roasts. “I can feel this is a tender chunk of beef.”
The meat, she said, will form the foundation of months’ worth of Sunday dinners with the family. Over the long Save-a-Lot closure, the Snyder family’s meat intake severely diminished. Hamburger, she said, cost twice as much at other stores.
Many shoppers said the same thing. They talked at length about other stores’ outrageous pricing and the distances required to reach better options.
Beyond the deal-grabbing discussions, Snyder talked of community pride.
“If you’re from a big city,” she said. “You don’t know what this place means to us.”
It means there’s a center for the community again.
Eight hours later Wednesday, the community was still packing the aisles.