Nothing average about Joe's return in Portland

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PORTLAND — After being closed for nearly two years, Joe’s Super Variety reopened April 20 at 665 Congress St.

“We were closed almost 500 days,” co-owner Michael Discatio joked April 21. “I had to get used to the cash registers again. Somebody had to train me.” 

The address is the same. The store name is not quite new; it was changed from Joe’s Smoke Shop several years ago. What’s different, however, is what’s inside and above.

The store now fills the first floor of The Hiawatha, a seven-story, 139-unit apartment building the Discatio family and developer Jonathan Culley built on the site of the former store.

As he showed the scar from a broken wrist he suffered making repairs, Michael Discatio said it was time for the old building to go. But without the return of Joe’s, there would be no new apartments above.

“There was no deal without it, and (Culley) knew it from the start,” Discatio said.

With tenants now expected to begin moving in by June, Culley agreed the store is essential to the project.

“It’s a neighborhood institution,” he said.

The Discatio family is entering its fourth generation running the store that opened in 1945. Brothers Michael and David Discatio are on hand, as is David’s wife, Maria, his son, Nick, and Michael’s daughter, Chelsea.

“Chelsea will be more in charge now,” Michael said, as she tended customers.

A third Discatio brother, Steven, left the business when the store closed, Michael said.

The hiatus provided rare time away from the family-owned business, where hours and days can blend together.

“The problem is, you are always on call,” Michael said. He has been called about business at the store while sitting at Fenway Park watching the Boston Red Sox.

Chelsea said she worked during the hiatus, but the families had time for travel, enjoying camp life and watching Nick play basketball for Scarborough High School. Michael said he went to California and Florida four times each.

“My fiancee kept me busy, and I did some upgrades at my camp,” he said.

The new store is about two-thirds the size of the old one, running parallel to Congress Street instead of perpendicular, but Michael said the additional room in the old store was “dead space” and expects it will now be easier for drivers to deliver merchandise.

“This is my future right here; I am excited to be back,” said Chelsea, who began working at the store when she was 14. A dozen years later, she is overseeing some changes while making sure the store retains its neighborhood feel.

A”Beer Cave” is new and more upscale, with a larger selection, and the deli menu will offer some healthier choices, but the basics of the variety store are intact.

“We never would have done this if Joe’s was going to close,” Chelsea said. “We also wanted to do this for our customers.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Michael Discatio and his daughter Chelsea Discatio work the new cash register April 21 at Joe’s Super Variety, which re-opened April 20 on Congress Street in Portland.

Joe’s Super Variety reopened April 20 on Congress Street in Portland, on the bottom floor of the new Hiawatha apartments.

Nick Discatio and his father, David Discatio, have returned to work at Joe’s Super Variety, which reopened at 665 Congress St. in Portland on April 20.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.