A family affair – Bathras Market returns to Willard Square

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SOUTH PORTLAND – After a 20-year absence, the family that operated the original Bathras Market in Willard Square will reopen the store next month.

Timothy Bathras – grandson of owners George and Christina Bathras – and his wife Kate intend to carry on their South Portland legacy when they open for business at 412 Preble St.

“The store has a legacy of being incredibly customer centered and neighborhood oriented,” said Kate Bathras, who is shooting for a mid-May opening. “While we are updating the store, we want to honor that legacy. We are still trying to keep the values of the store and the values of my husband’s grandparents.”

A goal of the new store will be to offer as much all-natural and local products as possible.

To that end, Kate Bathras, the store’s general manager and purchasing director who previously worked at Bowdoin College, said she is working with farms in Cape Elizabeth for local produce and will be partnering with Farmers’ Gate Market, a Maine-based butcher shop specializing in pasture-raised beef, lamb, pork and chicken. The store will also sell grocery items and seafood, as well as beer, wine, sandwiches, pizza and other prepared food.

“We’d like to think that what we are doing now is similar to what the store would have evolved into over these years had it stayed open,” she said.

The market opened in 1954 as a place for residents in the neighborhood to pick up grocery items, meat, seafood and produce, as well as beer, wine and other items. It closed in 1989 when George and Christina Bathras retired.

While it is an updated version of the market, Kate Bathras said, a lot of the elements of the original store, such as the shelving, coolers and much of the floor, have been retained.

“We were able to keep many of the elements from the store and reuse many of the elements previously in the store,” she said. “We haven’t had to change a whole lot in the layout of the store.”

As it was previously, the market will be family run, and getting the market back up and running has been a family goal. Timothy Bathras, who will own the store with his father and aunt, has been working on the website and finances. He also will continue working as a systems engineer at Bottomline Technologies in Portsmouth, N.H.

His aunt, Lisa Flocatoulas, will also be returning to help in the store full time. His father, Tim Bathras, a local lobsterman, has been working with a team of local contractors on the renovations. His grandmother, Christina Bathras, who lives above the market, will also help out in the store.

“I am so happy we are all getting back together to open the store,” said Tim Bathras, who, having grown up in the store while his parents ran it, has enjoyed hearing all the stories and memories people have shared about the old Bathras Market. “It was time for the neighborhood to have a store again.”

Paul Leddy, who owns Willard Scoops across the street, said he believes the market will add to the other food stores in the neighborhood, which includes his store and the popular Scratch Baking Co. next door to Bathras Market.

“We are really happy the place is opening again,” he said of Bathras Market. “I think every neighborhood needs a small grocery store.”

Evan Casas, who works at Scratch, said he is excited about the market’s reopening and has spoken to many customers of the bakery who share that feeling.

“I think it is going to be a positive thing,” he said. “It is definitely going to complement the square.”

Leddy, who grew up in the neighborhood and continues to live there, said he has nothing but fond memories of the store.

“They were always friendly,” he reminisced. “It was the quintessential grocery store.”

Willard Square has morphed in the past several years from a vacant neighborhood center to a destination for high-quality food. And, according to Kathy DiPhilippo, historian for the South Portland Historical Society, Willard Square was once known for its array of food stores. Prior to becoming Bathras Market, the 412 Preble St. building was the site of the Willard Square IGA store. Across the street, in a building that has since been torn down, was F.K. Richards variety store. Where Scratch bakery is now was once a drug store. In the 1940s, Austin Bean operated the store, which was complete with a soda fountain on one side and a post office substation in the back.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Willard Square was home to the A&P grocery store before the space was taken over by Richardson’s Market. When Bathras reopens in mid-May – a specific date hasn’t been selected yet – Kate Bathras said, there will be a celebration, with continued events and promotions throughout the summer.

“We know we have a lot of fans that want to be here that first day,” she said.

Kate Bathras, who lives a few doors down from the store with her husband and their 17-month-old daughter Norah, said she and her family are as excited as many in the neighborhood with this new venture.

“We look forward to seeing the customers come back into the store,” she said. “We want to work with them to create a place that best suits their needs.”

George and Christina Bathras, known as Mr. and Mrs. B, stand outside the market in a 1970 photo. The Bathras’ grandson, Timothy Bathras, and his wife, Kate, are reopening the Willard Square market next month. (Courtesy photo)Christina Bathras, who with her husband George operated the Bathras Market in South Portland’s Willard Square from 1954 to 1989, helps her son Tim Bathras apply stainless steel siding at the store. They are helping prepare for the May reopening of the market, which will be operated by George’s grandson, Timothy Bathras, and his wife Kate. (Photo by Peter Senzamici)

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