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People line up to pay for their items at the checkout area of the Community Store after its opening Saturday morning. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise
People line up to pay for their items at the checkout area of the Community Store after its opening Saturday morning. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Community-owned department store opens in Saranac Lake

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The first community-owned department store in the state of New York opened its doors in the North Country this weekend.

The Community Store in Saranac Lake traces its roots to the shutdown of the Ames department store chain in 2002. Organizers of the project sold half-a-million dollars in shares to local residents to get the store off the ground. As Chris Knight reports, shoppers who visited the store Saturday liked its selection and its prices.

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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Standing inside a packed Community Store Saturday morning, Jeanne Stone of Saranac Lake holds up two spools of thread.

"I was looking for thread for a project this morning, and I didn't have it," she said. "I walked in here, and here's the thread I need."

Like other Saranac Lakers, Jeanne and her husband Dick say the loss of Ames changed people's shopping habits. Many started shopping out of town for basic things like children's clothing, bed sheets and even underwear.

"It was a big deal," Dick said. "I think a lot of the other stores tried to pick up and help. But you just couldn't get this kind of stuff. This is so comprehensive. It saves us a trip, a big trip."

"We want to shop locally and always have," Jeanne added.

"We're big supporters of local shopping," Dick said. "We believe in it."

Saturday morning's ribbon cutting ceremony marked the end of five years of effort to bring a community owned department store to Saranac Lake. 
Melinda Little is president of the store's board of directors.

"I started to cry when the door opened this morning," she said. "It was very emotional, in a good way."

The Community Store project was launched just months after Walmart dropped plans to build a 121,000-square-foot Supercenter in Saranac Lake - a project that divided the community.

Hampered in part by the recession, the selling of shares took longer than organizers thought, but the group finally reached its $500,000 goal earlier this year. It also settled on a location, a 5,000-square-foot former restaurant in the village's downtown.

Speaking during Saturday's ribbon cutting ceremony, village Mayor Clyde Rabideau celebrated the store's organizers and shareholders for their efforts.

"Those 600 people that forked over their own hard-earned cash to make this happen are true American entrepreneurs. They're willing to get into the marketplace, they're willing to duke it out with every other retailer to make things happen. They represent what's best in our country. They represent the driving force in our economy."

The store's goods include children's, men's and women's clothing, baby goods, housewares, crafts and sewing supplies. Organizers like Melinda Little say they can't be everything to everyone, but she hopes people who stopped shopping locally now have a reason to come back.

"We're not a Walmart. We never said we would be a Walmart," she said. "We're trying to offer good, durable goods at reasonable prices that people are asking for here in Saranac Lake. Hopefully, they'll give us a chance."

Shares in the community store are still being sold through the end of the year.

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