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SOUTH PORTLAND — Tim Bathras said he can still see his grandfather sitting next to the old gumball machine that once stood next to the entry of Bathras Market in Willard Square.
He said the first-generation Greek immigrant had warm words and smiles for everyone who entered the neighborhood market, a fixture at 412 Preble St. for 35 years.
Bathras, who basically grew up in the store that closed in 1989, recalls being pushed around the store in a shopping cart, stopping to smell the fresh coconuts.
Meanwhile, his grandmother, who still lives above the store, would man the cash register, playing the role of mother to the neighborhood kids.
“If the kids tried to buy too much candy, my grandmother would ask them to get a permission slip from their parents,” the 29-year old said.
Bathras, who lives two buildings down from the store, hopes his family can rekindle that neighborhood spirit when they reopen Bathras Market in May.
His 29-year-old wife, Kate Bathras, said they have worked hard to keep the “heart and soul” of the old market, while updating it to modern tastes. To help honor that tradition, Tim Bathras’ father and aunt will co-own the store with him.
“We don’t want to be just a little Hannaford,” Kate Bathras said.
Bathras said the 1,350-square foot store will offer a variety of organic and locally sourced foods, including lobster. Pasture-raised meats from Farmer’s Gate Market in Wales, beer and wine will also be sold.
According to the website, the store will not offer foods that contain artificial colors, flavors or MSG; antibiotics or artificial growth hormones; high-fructose corn syrup; trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils; or chemical fragrances or cleaning agents.
The store has been updated with a kitchen, which will be run by chef Eric Pray, a 28-year-old South Portland native with five years of experience working at Legal Seafoods in Boston.
In addition to typical neighborhood market items, they plan to offer gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian soups, in addition to prepared foods, salads and Italian sandwiches, which Kate Bathras said were once famous in the neighborhood.
“We’re bringing back the Italian sandwich, but an all-natural version,” she said.
The Bathras said they are also working hard to make sure they do not directly compete with Scratch Baking Co., which is next door.
Bob Johnson, owner of Scratch, said he is excited to see Bathras Market return, and he is not worried about the competition.
“I think it will be more symbiotic than competitive,” Johnson said.
The two businesses have established an arrangement where Bathras will sell Scratch’s artisan bread on Sunday afternoons, when Scratch is closed.
Johnson said he appreciated the Bathras’ effort to reuse the old building and honor, what he called, “the ghosts of commerce past.”
“The history of the square is always something we have respected and embraced,” he said.
Inside the market, the Bathras are reusing the store’s original shelving, but they are painting the walls a bright yellow and adding a tin ceiling to compliment the old hardwood floors.
They are also reusing antique beer and dairy coolers.
“We have reused a lot of the components of the original building, both for the sake of being sustainable and nostalgic,” Kate Bathras said.
A specific opening date will depend on equipment deliveries and inspections, but Bathras said she hopes to be open by the second week in May.
Once open, the Bathras hope to create as many memories as they do profits – especially for their own 17-month-old daughter, Norah.
“(Norah) has already figured out this is an extension of her home,” Bathras said.
This story was updated on April 22 to indicate the original Bathras Market was open for 35 years, not 25 years, as originally reported.
Tim and Kate Bathras, standing with their 17-month-old daughter Norah outside of Bathras Market, said they plan to recreate the orginal Bathras market sign when the business reopens in South Portland’s Willard Square.
George Bathras poses with his mother-in-law in front of Bathras Market in South Portland’s Willard Square in the 1970s.
Tim, Kate and Norah Bathras next to an antique dairy cooler inside Bathras Market, which is expected to reopen soon at 412 Preble St. in South Portland’s Willard Square.
Yiayia Bathras stocks the shelves in the 1970s at the original Bathras Market, which will be reopened soon in South Portland’s Willard Square.