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Castle Shannon specialty store McGinnis Market closing its doors

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
John McGinnis embraces longtime McGinnis Market customer Rip Maxwell of Harmar on Friday May 3, 2013. After 33 years, McGinnis is closing the doors for good.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Customers at McGinnis Market in Castle Shannon line up for bargain pricing on Friday May 3, 2013. After 50 years in business the owner, John McGinnis, is closing the doors for good.

John McGinnis sipped Korbel Brut champagne from a plastic cup as he looked down on the dozens of customers browsing through McGinnis Market. From his office above the meat counter, McGinnis watched them inspect locally grown produce, ethnic foods and special homemade sauces.

Now, after 33 years, the specialty grocery tucked along Route 88 in Castle Shannon is closing.

“All good things come to an end,” said McGinnis, 66, of Amwell. “On one hand, I feel like a guy getting out of prison — not smiling, just relieved to be with family. On the other side, I'm a young fellow and it's the last day of school. I'm waiting for the bell to ring to go play.”

McGinnis decided May 4 to close the doors of his shop for good at the end of the month. While he had always had a plan for retirement, the decision was made suddenly. It was the first day of turkey season, and he was sitting on his 105-acre farm in Washington County.

“I have no debt — I own my farm, my equipment, my store,” he said. “I started talking to myself, and said ‘why are you working?' I made the decision then and there.”

Two days later, he broke the news to his 22 employees, then announced the closing to the 3,000 customers who subscribe to his emails. By the end of the week, he had canceled all shipments and marked down the entire store.

As he talked on Friday with customers he's known for decades, a grin took over his face. There have been tears, he said, but mostly from his longtime customers.

“My regular customer base, they're upset — they thought I'd be here forever,” McGinnis said.

Rip Maxwell certainly did. Maxwell, 74, began shopping at McGinnis Market in 1983, when his company transferred him to Mt. Lebanon. About 12 years ago, he and his wife moved to Harmar.

Since then, Maxwell has kept good on his promise to McGinnis to shop at his store at least once each month.

“I trust him — today, in this world, trust isn't something you just give away. You have to earn it,” Maxwell said. “John has always been honest.”

Rose Liptak has shopped at the store for more years than she can remember. Last week, she browsed the sauce aisle during McGinnis' 25 percent off sale – the grocer reduced prices on everything in the store until the shelves are bare — and picked up some fresh meat from his butcher shop.

“It's unusual to get an independent store like this,” said Liptak, of Mt. Lebanon. “I'm going to miss it — it's a shame he's closing.”

But it's time, McGinnis said. He's been in the grocery business for 50 years. His father ran McGinnis Food Center, which McGinnis took over in the 1970s. The family opened locations in Brentwood and Monroeville and that business later became McGinnis Sisters, which currently has three stores.

McGinnis moved out on his own, operating a farm stand with his brother near what then was a gas station. The McGinnis Brothers market opened in 1981 on the same site.

Owning his own store has meant being out of bed by 4 a.m. every morning — and by 1:30 a.m. on Christmas Day to make sure everyone's order is filled.

Since announcing the closing last week, McGinnis has had three unsolicited offers for his store. He said he doesn't know whether he's going to sell, lease or keep the property. That's a decision best left for after closing, he said.

Over the years, McGinnis has been invited to customers' homes for dinner — made using products bought in his store — and to parties.

“The people here, they're not just customers,” McGinnis said. “With them, it's a little emotional. I've always went out of my way to provide good, sincere service.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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