In a turn of events, people cleared several Marblehead Community Store shelves on Thursday afternoon after the business owners posted “please come and grab whatever you need” over Facebook.
“We’re closing for good,” wrote the Beacon Street store. “Everything for the next two hours is free. Come and grab.”
For more than a week, the Marblehead Community Store had been shuttered. A going-out-of-business sale was slated for the weekend, but the owners deviated from those plan on Thursday.
“We’re giving it away because it’s better than throwing it out,” the store’s owner, Fahaam Ahmad, told the Marblehead News as a frenzy played out around him.
To get in on the action on Thursday, some double parked and walked down to the Community Store. A throng jammed aisles, grabbing what they could, filling grocery and black trash bags. Metal carts brimmed with wares. Others loaded up the back seats and trunks of their vehicles.
Mick Calnan filled a grocery cart to the top.
“I’m heading back to college so this is great for me. I’ve got lots of frozen meat,” Calhan told the Marblehead News. “I don’t know what this is (pointing to some frozen meat), but I think it might be pork. I’ve got sausages and chicken and frozen veggies.”
He said he used to come here to buy sandwiches. He said the scene felt “very odd” and like looting.
“It feels very weird,” said Bonnie Snow as she filled bags in a grocery cart. “I’ve got two bags here and four more in the car. I have boxes, too.”
She added, “I’ll be dropping a lot of this off at shelters.”
At one point, a Marblehead Board of Health representative came by after the town heard the Community Store may be giving away expired food.
Ahmad and his business partner, Abdul Hanan, acquired the community store two years ago when it faced a permanent COVID-19-era closure.
A year after they acquired the business, however, the partners felt compelled to put the Marblehead Community Store (the business, not the property) up for sale, in part due to costly repairs and operations.
Hanan said they found two “qualified buyers,” including a Pakistani buyer who agreed to acquire the business for $425,000 in cash. But the deal fell through due to landlord Peter Brown’s failure to cooperate with the lease transfer, Ahmad and Hanan said.
“Peter kept bouncing me between him and his lawyer,” Ahmad said. “The lawyer would have a message saying he is on vacation, and when he gets back, he says to speak to Peter, and they kept bouncing me back and forth for about six months until the buyer moved on to another business.”
Calls from the Marblehead News to Brown went unanswered.
Both buyers grew impatient and abandoned their offers when they could not procure a lease transfer from the landlord, according to Ahmad.
In all, Ahmad said he and his partner have lost $600,000 with the Community Store venture, of which they had hoped to recoup $425,000 by selling the business.
So, after a brief reprieve, the end may be near for the Marblehead Community Store. Until Thursday’s frenzy, the Community Store’s parking lot was empty. Aisles were desolate. Metal bars that fold up like an accordion blocked the doors to keep people out.
For more than 50 years, the Beacon Street grocery store has filled a small-town niche. It sold regular market wares, but it also garnered a reputation for making sandwiches to order and employed an on-site butcher. Employees also related to patrons on a first-name basis.
“Our meat department has provided Marblehead and surrounding communities with the best cuts of meat since 1960,” the store’s website reads.
Aside from the circumstances that have led to the business’ demise, Ahmad said being the proprietor of a Marblehead business has been a positive experience.
“Local business and people have been great,” Ahmad said. “They love this town, and they love the Community Store.”