CAROGA?LAKE - Jerry Groom's motto for his store in Caroga Lake, "If we don't have it, you don't need it," symbolizes the independent spirit and hard work that has kept the store viable for three decades.
The store was purchased from Burton Yates in 1980 by Jerry L. Groom and his wife Carmella, and it has been run since 1993 by his son, Jerry L. Groom Jr.
The current proprietor is helped by his 14-year-old son, Jerry L. Groom III. Second son Patrick, 13, and Jerry Jr.'s wife, Kimberly, also help out when they can. But with a full-time job working for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for Kimberly and the boys' schoolwork and activities, most of the burden of running the store falls to Jerry Jr.
Jerry Groom Jr., proprietor of Groom’s Store in Caroga Lake, sells a cup of Starbuck’s coffee to Joseph Hilton of Altamont on May 6. The store, founded by Groom’s father, has been in business for 30 years.
"I am the sole proprietor and usually the sole employee," Groom said.
Before he bought the store, Jerry's father had started and run the Hawaiian Boats Co. in California from 1974 to 1980. When the company went bankrupt after making 14,000 sport fiberglass boats, Jerry Sr. moved to Caroga Lake and bought the store.
His father was as fearless in business as he had been in the military decades earlier, Groom said.
"I found out from my uncle [my father] had been in the OSS during the Korean War, where most of his unit was killed," Groom said. The Office of Strategic Services was the secret U.S. intelligence service from which the CIA was formed after World War II.
Some years ago, Jerry Jr. was able to find and buy one of the sport boats his father had built. He values it as part of his family's history.
He says he also values the history and customer loyalty the "mom and pop" store has come to represent.
"The store has evolved over the years," Groom said. "My father expanded the original building to include an area for displaying video rentals and hardware supplies. I have expanded on the amount and variety of hardware and plumbing supplies that we carry and have changed with the times from videotape rentals to DVD rentals."
Area patrons have come to rely on the selection of hardware supplies, groceries and gas to be had at the store. Visiting the store May 8 was Steve Mowrey, who said he has been a regular customer since he moved to the town 11 years ago.
"I always check here for supplies before making the drive to [Gloversville or Johnstown]," Mowrey said. "And Jerry usually has it in stock."
Joseph Hilton of Altamont stopped by the store for a cup of Starbuck's coffee. He said he appreciated that the store carries good coffee without any hype about it.
Groom said he started grinding Starbuck's brand coffee beans several years ago because he likes how it tastes, and his customers are treated to premium coffee without the high price that usually goes along with it.
"It's the type of thing an independent store can do to make things a little better," Groom said. "It only costs me 25 cents more per pot than pre-ground Folger's. But mom-and-pop stores are a dying breed."
Jerry and Kimberly say their sons have been raised in the store.
"I've brought each of them in car carriers as babies and set them on the counter," Kimberly said. "They each still spend three hours every weekday after getting off the school bus until I get home from work, longer on weekends when we are both here working."
While Dad waits on customers, the boys often can be seen playing basketball with the hoop and backboard their father put up on the blacktop beside the store. They also pitch in to help customers and stock the shelves when things get busy.
"I think it has helped with their social development as well as their attitude about work," Kimberly said. "Jerry and I are both hard workers with strong work ethics. In fact, Jerry has been accused of marrying me so he'd have another employee."
Kimberly, 45, said she met Jerry, 51, after answering a personal ad he placed in the Want Ad Digest. Originally from Columbia County, she said she agreed to meet Jerry for a first date at the state museum in Albany.
"It was the best first date I ever had," she said.
Things at the store haven't always been easy. Leaking underground gas tanks installed before his father purchased the property had to be dug up and replaced in 1998, a nearly $90,000 expense Groom says he is still paying for.
"When you buy the property, you buy the problems, too," he said. "And weather is a huge factor in how business goes. The rainy summer last year really hurt business.
And winters can be hard. Groom said it probably would be practical to close in the winter, but he feels a commitment to be open for the local patrons - year-round residents of a town with many summer visitors. Most of the business at Groom's is in summer, and the threatened closing of the state campground in the town could present a big challenge.
Caroga town officials voted this week to provide funding to help the state Department of Environmental Conservation open the campground and its beach this summer, at least on a limited schedule. Whether that plan will be successful is uncertain.
"The visitors to our campground frequent our store for any and all supplies needed," Groom said. "Our selection of tarps, sweatshirts, camping and fishing supplies along with grocery items are a big draw for visitors to the campground."
The Grooms say they don't regret the hand life has dealt them in this small Adirondack town.
"We are a close-knit town, where everyone knows everyone, and everyone is willing to help out a resident in need," Groom said. "It's been a great place to raise our kids. And time and again, I've heard a customer say, 'You had exactly what I needed. We're so glad you're here.' That's what keeps me going."