Runs IGA stores in Mars Hill, Fort Fairfield and Presque Isle
by Mary Margaret Stewart,
Josh Tweedie worked through high school and college at one of the grocery stores he currently owns and operates in Maine. He then spent most of his early professional career with his father’s trucking business.
“I worked in the transportation industry for about 20 years, so we were very familiar with delivering groceries and commodities and hauling off freight of all kinds all over the country, but specifically up and down the East Coast and in New England,” Tweedie said.
“The opportunity came where I had a chance to buy the business. There are three stores, and I had spoken with the owner about the possibility of working something out. We bought the business in March 2017.”
There are three stores – Mars Hill IGA in Mars Hill; Hillside IGA in Fort Fairfield; and Star City IGA in Presque Isle. Tweedie described them as “three small hometown stores” that have been in business for many years. Today, he and his wife, Samantha, run the business. Two of their five children work with them. The other three are younger, but will join them someday.
“Right now, I’m primarily doing all day-to-day operations. My wife is home raising our family, but she does help me out a lot with running products around from store to store or running errands when she’s able to.”
The couple’s oldest daughter, 20, started working in the stores four years ago.
“[She’s] very capable of helping in different areas of the business…we’re expanding our deli in the Mars Hill store to another location. We have a small ski area in the town, and we’re going to be taking over the kitchen and concessions there this winter. She’ll be heading that up for us as a new venture of the business,” Tweedie said.
“And then my second daughter is a senior in high school…she’s juggling [remote learning] and working, helping us out in the deli and at the cash register as much as she’s able to.”
Between the three stores, there are 96 employees. But Tweedie said staffing levels have been among the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve had struggles with trying to make sure we have enough [employees] to keep the stores going, trying to make sure we’ve got enough product available and supply of items available, keeping the stores clean and sanitary – making sure everybody feels safe,” he said.
But while sales are up for grocers, so are costs, according to Tweedie.
“There’s been a lot of extra expenses this year to the business, even though people may say, ‘Well, stores are doing good’…business may be up, but expenses are up as well. It’s been a lot harder this year to do business.
“It’s been a challenge for everybody on many, many levels…we’re thankful that we’re able to stay open and [for] support from the customers.”
Having the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association at Tweedie’s side has helped mitigate these obstacles.
“Without Maine Grocers, it’d be a challenge…I would honestly probably feel lost,” he said.
“They’re very prompt. They keep us up to date. They get us contact information for our local representatives and senators on topics that we may be interested in or that we’d want to talk to them about. They’re our go-between for that at the state level.
“They’re looking out for our best interests and best needs. So the more people that can be involved in Maine Grocers, it’s better for the whole industry.”
Moving forward, Tweedie’s plan for 2021 is simple: keep everyone healthy and remain in compliance with local mandates to keep the doors open.
“For us, customer service is No. 1…we may not be the biggest, but we’ll do everything we can to have the best customer service and shopping experience people could have when they come to our stores,” he said.
“We’ve expanded the business this year with our curbside pickup option. We’re going to be continuing that in 2021. Right now, we don’t have any visions of expanding the business other than the venture we’re doing with the local ski area.
“But who knows, someday when the kids get older, if they want to become more involved…take on a bigger role…it may be something that we would look to expand.”
To learn about the current state of the food industry in Maine from the executive director of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, click here.