Michelle Monroe, St. Albans Messenger
‘Your customers become your friends.’
SWANTON — After spending a lifetime selling food and other essentials to his neighbors Phil Ste. Marie has retired.
He and his wife, Marylou, sold the store known throughout Swanton as “Ste. Marie’s” to Todd Conger on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11 a.m.
Phil, 63, grew up in his father’s East Fairfield store, moving with the rest of the family to Swanton in 1969 when his father opened a store in Swanton Village.
His family has been in the retail business for more than 100 years, going back to a great-grandfather who had a business delivering meat in early model automobiles a century ago.
Phil’s son Chris is carrying on the family tradition. He’s the new owner of the Bay Store in St. Albans Town.
Phil purchased Ste. Marie’s in 1990, after taking a two-year break from retail to sell insurance. It wasn’t for him.
Retail is “in your blood,” Phil said. He had gone from his father’s store to managing the meat department at Grand Union, to opening his own meat store in Swanton, prior to trying the insurance business.
Asked what he likes about retail work, Phil answered, “It’s obviously the people.”
“You work in a quick stop like this … your customers become your friends. I have people who’ve traded with me for 30 years,” he added.
“You have to learn to appreciate your customers, because without them you’re nothing,” Phil said. “Without them it’s not any fun.”
Ste. Marie’s has a small deli, along with selling gas and a mix of convenience store items. It’s also one of the top Vermont lottery stores in the state, both for the number of tickets sold and the number of winners.
“We’ve had more money winners than any other store in the state,” said Phil.
A Megabucks winner purchased their winning ticket at Ste. Marie’s three years in a row, Phil explained. The following year, the store had a $200,000 winner.
“Everybody says, ‘I’m going to stop at Ste. Marie’s because that’s a lucky store,'” said Phil. The more people who purchased tickets at the store, the more people won.
The other top lottery stores in the state are in areas with little competition. There are seven other stores in Swanton selling lottery tickets, according to Phil.
Asked about the community, Phil said, “The store’s been very good to me. I feel I’ve been very good to the community.”
Whenever the fire department, Little League or students knocked on the door, the Ste. Maries would help. Chain stores are involved with the community in a different way, Phil said. They tend to give big checks rather than the smaller-scale every day giving of a Mom and Pop store like Ste. Marie’s.
For the former Little League coach, the biggest change during his years at the store has been seeing the people he knew as kids grow up and come into the store with their own children. “Kids who used to work for me now have kids who work for me,” said Phil.
He decided to sell the store for health reasons. “I had heart surgery three years ago,” said Phil. “That makes you think you’ve got to take time off.”
Although there were multiple people interested, Phil selected Todd Conger, who had spent 24 years with Cargill locally, to purchase the store.
“He was very concerned with getting somebody with local ties,” said Conger, who grew up in St. Albans and married Swanton native Jennifer Thibault. Conger and his wife live in West Swanton. After 27 years in banking, Jennifer is joining him at Ste. Marie’s.
Running a store is something he’s always wanted to do and the timing of the sale of Ste. Marie’s was right for his family. One of their children is a senior at Missisquoi Valley Union high school and another is in college. “We’re no longer having to chase the kids around,” said Conger.
After posing for photos on Thursday, Phil asked the Messenger to convey his appreciation and thanks to the community for shopping at his store and supporting his business for the past 23 years.