The shelves are nearly stocked, the registers are in place and the deli case is filled with meats and cheeses. Thirteen months after the Susquehanna River inundated Shickshinny's only market, the town's residents will soon be able to buy their groceries close to home. Thomas' Market is set to open a new grocery store this Saturday inside the former Five Mountain Market on Route 11.
The opening can't come soon enough for residents of the small riverside community.
"For me this is astronomical," said Jim Bach, vice president of the Business Association of Greater Shickshinny Area. "It helps a lot of people who can't drive or who can drive but don't want to with the price of gas. It brings people back into our community that have left to go other places, and I certainly think it will help our other businesses by bringing people back into Shickshinny."
As renovations of the store have progressed over the last few weeks, Thomas' Market co-owner Chris Evans of West Pittston said giving tours of his new store to curious borough residents has become a nightly ritual.
"I've been in this business for 29 years now and on my own for 14, and I've never had a municipality or a group of people so excited to have a business come to their town as the people of Shickshinny," Evans said. "I've just never felt as appreciated as I do every day to be doing business here."
The Five Mountain Plaza housing the grocery store was gutted by last September's flood, when the river reached a historic high water mark at Wilkes-Barre of 42.66 feet. The plaza was built to withstand flooding, with flood gates 7 feet high protecting the building from a flood crest of up to 38 feet. While structurally stable, four walls and a roof were all that could be salvaged, Evans said.
Evans, who owns the Thomas' Market chain with Pam Evans of Exeter and Tom and Hayley Baseski of Dallas, said the plaza's landlords handled interior renovations, making it an attractive location for the business. Plus, the town really needs it, he said.
"The people down here are in desperate need of a grocery store," Evans said. "These customers that live in the immediate area are forced to drive 13 miles in all directions to get to a grocery store, so we think it's a great opportunity for us, as well as a great convenience for them."
The return of the market is one of the last milestones in Shickshinny's long path to recovery. Most of the 28 businesses damaged by the flood have returned, among them Five Mountain Hardware, Bach's Fitness Shickshinny, CVS Pharmacy, Subway, The Wagon Wheel restaurant and about a dozen other businesses.
The new market will be slightly larger than its predecessor, as the grocer will take over adjacent space in the plaza formerly occupied by a pizza restaurant. At 15,000 square feet, the market will be slightly smaller than Thomas' next smallest location on Memorial Highway in Shavertown.
It will have full-service deli and produce department, an in-store bakery, prepared foods department and eventually an in-store restaurant with six-pack beer to go. Evans said he is awaiting state approval to sell alcohol and is hoping to receive a license within a month. The market opens for business at 7 a.m. Saturday.