McGinnis Market closing its doors after more than three decades

Published May 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm (Updated May 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm)

John McGinnis was hunting turkey three weekends ago when he started talking turkey with himself.

“I had a plan in place, but I wasn’t sure when I would pull the trigger,” he said, referring in this instance to retirement, not aiming at large fowl on his Amwell Township farm.

“I was looking out over the farm and started talking to myself in the woods. I’m 66. That’s an age of retirement. I made the decision right there to ride off on my white horse.”

This was April 27. Two days later, he told 22 employees he was closing his career and the store that had become a culinary mecca in the South Hills and beyond.

McGinnis Market in Castle Shannon will cease operations June 1 – “or before, if I sell everything,” McGinnis said. This will be the end of John McGinnis’ 50-year run as a grocer, and the store’s 33-year run at Route 88 and Castle Shannon Boulevard.

It could “return” in a different incarnation. “Our goal is to lease,” McGinnis said, adding that some national companies have expressed interest.

McGinnis Market has billed its staff as “Purveyors of Fine Foods,” and many customers would endorse the designation. They’ve reveled in the fresh meats, seafood and produce from local and national suppliers, and in store-made products and employee expertise that likewise became trademarks.

John McGinnis announced his pending retirement May 1 on Facebook and in an email to 2,500 customers, and that effective May 3, the price of everything would be slashed 25 percent.

The market’s popularity was underscored that day. “This place was a madhouse,” he said. “We very quickly ran out of fresh fish and meats, and we’re not restocking.”

Prices will drop again on May 17 to 40 percent off all stock.

His decision to hang up his apron wasn’t as popular.

“Some people were crying, some were swearing at me, ‘Why are you closing? Where are we going to go?’” said McGinnis, occasionally lapsing into past tense despite still being in business. “We’re old-fashioned in character. We knew a lot of customers, and they knew us.”

Employees, likewise, were stunned by the boss’ news.

“We almost thought he was kidding,” said Jake Buehl of Castle Shannon, an apprentice butcher. “It took awhile to sink in. The first day, we were walking around like zombies.”

So were a sister of his and their mother, who also are on the payroll but will soon be seeking work. “Our entire family worked here at some point,” Jake Buehl said.

Even near the end, it remains a busy market at a busy intersection, with cars and customers bobbing and weaving for position outside and inside.

“We weren’t like a regular grocery,” said McGinnis, who moved to Amwell in 1988. “The only nonfood items we sell are charcoal and chips to make smoke.

“We had unusual cheeses that were homemade. We made salsa, ham salad, potato salad. There’s a smokehouse here where we made kolbassi, bacon, pork loins. Our deli sandwiches are the best in the city. Period.”

McGinnis embarked on this culinary course a half-century ago, as a 16-year-old working at his father’s grocery in Baldwin Borough, near the family residence. After college and a stint in the Marine Corps, he returned home to run that store for 10 years before opening the existing one.

His market differs from the McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores, operated by his three sisters in Brentwood, Monroeville and Adams Township, Butler County.

The most difficult part of riding that white horse, McGinnis said, is the effect it will have on a quality staff. He said he has valued his employees, who include his son, Jon. McGinnis said he has paid and will pay full health coverage for all to the end, and that keeping their work hours reasonable was a factor in keeping the store open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

One employee, Don Boeltz, 63, of Castle Shannon, is a longtime friend of the owner. They grew up on the same Baldwin street, Boeltz, the main meat cutter, has been at the market for three decades.

Retirement time won’t be idle time for McGinnis.

“I have to run that farm, and there’s a lot of work there,” he said. “We’re putting in corn and soybeans. I also buy houses and flip them and have rental properties. I love to hunt and fish. I go hunting out West.”

Retirement time will be happy time, too.

“I don’t have any regrets,” McGinnis said. “And when I make up my mind, that’s the way it is.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m young and it’s the last day of school and the final bell is about to ring. I’m leaving with a smile.”

And a full measure of pride.

“I was a good businessman. I’m proud to say that.”

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