SOUTH PORTLAND — It doesn’t really matter to Alan Cardinal what people call his new business, as long as they call it family-owned.
Cardinal and his wife, former Scarborough Town Councilor Sylvia Most, are the new owners of Legion Square Market on Ocean Street, a grocery store customers also know as Smaha’s.
“It has always been family owned, and we are the next family,” said Cardinal, who bought the store from Tom Smaha on Aug. 1.
The ownership change ends 45 years of ownership by Smaha, 68. He began working in the store when he was 14 and it was owned by his father, who opened it in 1939.
After 54 years, Smaha said it was time to move on – provided he found the right buyer for the business.
“We think the same way,” Smaha said about Cardinal.
Smaha will be on hand to help with the transition through the end of the year, but said he already notices a change in his morning schedule.
“I am used to getting in here at 6 or 6:30. Now I am coming in at 8 when the day is half gone,” he joked.
Customers may notice new lighting and paint at the store, but Cardinal, a former Hannaford Bros. executive who has also worked at Wright Express and Fairchild/National Semiconductor, said little else will change.
“It is really about having a family business and keeping people employed.”
Cardinal said the biggest strength of the store will continue to be the meat department with steer beef and fresh ground meat. Smaha said customers from areas outlying Portland come in monthly to stock up.
Dairy, frozen foods and groceries are supplied by Hannaford Bros., giving the store variety to accompany its traditional strengths, Cardinal said.
“We have very few people who come in and leave wanting something they could not get,” he said.
Smaha said he decided to sell in the spring, but expected the process to take a couple of years. Then, Cardinal contacted him and showed the desire to maintain a neighborhood tradition.
“I’m still very much in the learning curve,” Cardinal said. “I’m learning all the personalities and being open to a group of people with wonderful ideas.”
Smaha was in the store Thursday morning to lend a hand as Cardinal was already ordering inventory. The basics of supply and demand become more critical when the merchandise is perishable, a challenge Cardinal said was like “just in time” component ordering in manufacturing.
Smaha has seen the neighborhood evolve over six decades, including the arrival of nearby chain supermarkets and a loss of vehicle traffic after the replacement of the Million Dollar Bridge in favor of the Casco Bay Bridge.
Because new condominiums are getting sold and businesses are moving in, Smaha regards the future of Knightville with optimism.
Cardinal agreed, even as his first days as owner are punctuated by construction on Ocean Street reducing traffic and the enduring question of how vehicles will park when the street and sidewalk work is done.
“It is fun to become involved in the community and learn the subtleties,” he said.
Smaha’s, or Legion Square Market, a Knightville landmark on Ocean Street, was bought by Scarborough couple Alan Cardinal and Sylvia Most on Aug. 1. “It has always been family owned. We are the next family,” Cardinal said.
Following their 7 p.m. meeting on Monday, Aug. 20, city councilors will hold a workshop to reopen the topic of parking in Knightville.
The workshop will be held in council chambers at City Hall.
Councilors decided in June to eliminate angled parking on Ocean Street north of Legion Square. Local business owners including Tom Smaha and South Portland Buy Local members objected to the change, and Smaha said store customers express the same opinions.
“I haven’t talked to anybody who wants it changed,” he said, adding he has urged people to contact the council and City Manager James Gailey to express their views.