2012-08-17 / Front Page

Iconic market in experienced hands

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Alan Cardinal of Scarborough, the new owner of Legion Square Market in South Portland, known locally as Smaha’s, said he has no plans to make drastic changes to the store. (Jack Flagler photo) Alan Cardinal of Scarborough, the new owner of Legion Square Market in South Portland, known locally as Smaha’s, said he has no plans to make drastic changes to the store. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — The name of Legion Square Market, known to locals as Smaha’s, will not be changing. Nor will the staff, the selection of products, or the feel of the store. But for the first time since 1939, Smaha’s will no longer be owned by a member of the Smaha family.

Tom Smaha, who has run the store since 1967, when he inherited the business from his father, decided this spring to put the store on the market. Smaha, 68, said he thought it might take years to sell the store, but within weeks he found a buyer — Alan Cardinal, a former Hannaford executive from Scarborough.

Cardinal said Smaha’s was a perfect fit for his needs. He said the store has a “wonderful legacy” in a “wonderful community” of loyal customers, and he stressed that customers can expect the same shopping experience they have become used to since the long-standing market opened in 1939.

Cardinal said in a news release that he and his wife, Sylvia Most, “will continue to operate the store in the hands-on tradition of a family business.”

“I want people to understand, whatever they hear about or see. It’s not changing what this brand is. It will always have the Legion Square Market connection. Right now, there’s no plan for a change,” Cardinal said.

Smaha felt it was important to find a buyer for the store that would keep the family name and tradition alive. He started working at the store at the age of 14, sweeping, cleaning and performing whatever other odd jobs needed to be done. Since then, Smaha said he has made sure the store prioritized personal contact and devotion to quality that he is confident will continue.

“We’ve earned the reputation of doing things right and people like it, especially the locals,” Smaha said.

Cardinal officially assumed ownership of the store on Aug. 1, but Smaha plans to stay at the store through the end of October to assist with the transition. Smaha also said he will come in for a few days to help out during the busy holiday season, when he said business quadruples. Then, he plans to enjoy his retirement.

“I’m going to travel some. I like to boat, so I’ll spend some more time on my boat during the summer,” Smaha said. “I’ve got four kids in the area and five grandchildren. We’ll stay busy.”

Smaha has been a vocal critic of the South Portland City Council’s decision to change the parking arrangement in the Knightville area, but said his decision is unrelated to the city council’s actions.

“The city (council) has not been very business friendly when it comes to this area and making it easier for us,” Smaha said. “They’re just not thinking about us. They’re thinking about the beauty of the area and all this. Well that’s wonderful, but this has been this way for years, and it works.”

The city council chose to make the change to benefit area residents and pedestrians. The total number of parking spaces will remain the same, but there will be fewer spaces in the two-block radius of Ocean Street between E Street and C Street, an area that included Smaha’s market.

“We’ve done a lot of things to support business and we will continue to support business, but I felt that residents had some real concerns that we needed to address,” Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis told the Sentry in June.

Cardinal agrees with Smaha on the issue, and said many customers have approached him to tell him “They’re all very concerned about losing that convenience and adding the difficulty of parallel parking.”

Cardinal has encouraged concerned customers to contact members of the council through email or by phone to voice their concerns. Those communications from upset citizens may have paid off. The city council scheduled a workshop Monday, Aug. 20 to further discuss area parking issues.

Unless the council decides to make another change, the parking changes will go into effect this fall, when construction in the Knightville area finishes. But despite his concerns about parking, Cardinal said he’s looking forward to serving the nearly 2,000 customers who shop at Smaha’s each week.

“I’m excited to continue Legion Square Market’s tradition of providing quality products and great service to the local community,” Cardinal said. “The Smaha family’s practices established a trust with customers that will remain unbroken.”

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