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August 31, 2004 > Mr. Mikey's Country Store

Mr. Mikey's Country Store

The country store is well known to those who grew up in small towns where these establishments were the center of commerce, information and gossip. They catered to folks living many miles from large population centers. Merchandise and supplies found on shelves were dictated by customer preferences; special orders and services considered part of doing business. Some of these stores still exist and others have been created to recapture the small town atmosphere and goodwill that was a comforting presence in town life.

The Vermont Country Store continues a family tradition in the small town of Weston (population 600). The Orton family has continued to operate the establishment featured in the 1952 Saturday Evening Post when the town population was 475. Current proprietor, Lyman Orton says he follows the same principals as his Grandfather of finding "useful, functional products" and the motto, "We sell products that don't come back, to people who do." Practical business, rooted in common sense has kept these stores in business. Mr. Orton does on to say, "It costs a lot of money to get a new customer and makes no sense at all to lose a customer because of poor service or inferior products."

What does a country store in Vermont have to do with the Tri-Cities? This area, too, was a series of farming communities with small towns connected by dirt roads, difficult to traverse especially during winter rains. Transportation was slow and miles were measured in hours, not minutes. Niles was, and to an extent remains, a small town that while part of the Washington Township, had a unique identity and character. Although now found within the city limits of Fremont, Niles is a district that is fiercely independent and retains a quality that calls upon its colorful past to create a state of mind that is nostalgic and comforting. Niles people know each other and actively interact on issues affecting their town.

A mini grocery store, previously known as Mrs. Bentley's, located near the west end of town on Niles Boulevard is one of the hubs of town social interaction. It was inevitable that when Mrs. Bentley moved on, someone named "Mr. Mikey" would enter the scene. This store is unusual, but that is typical in Niles. Mr. Mikey's Country Store masquerades as a large convenience store and deli, but is, in reality, a meeting place for locals. Mike Daoudi, a banker, owns the store, but the real "Mr. Mikey" is his father Sam and his cousin Aziz, who greet customers on a daily basis. "This is a family business and the whole family helps out when they can," says Sam. Sam has been in the liquor, deli and grocery business for 25 years and still owns a deli in San Francisco but has come to love Niles and it shows. Even in the short period of time of an interview, a constant stream of customers wave and cheerfully say "hello" to Sam and he, in return, says "hi" knowing them by name.

Sam lives in Fremont and loves Niles. He knows it is a special place that combines the best of a country atmosphere within a large city. It is Sam that people know as they stroll along the aisles, wait for a wonderful deli sandwich to be prepared or walk over to the counter where Aziz, waits patiently while locals are meeting and greeting each other. A crock pot of homemade tamales, made and delivered every morning by a lady from Pacifica, sits by his side and those in the know, eye them hungrily.

Asked if this store is different from previous enterprises, Sam says, "It is different because the neighborhood is different. I feel like I am in the country. A large poster board near one of the entrances lists major events coming to Niles. Most of the customers that walk in spend 5 or 10 minutes talking with each other, like a big family." Although the store has size limitations and Sam characterizes it as a very large convenience store, Mr. Mikey's is really much more. Produce can be found at the store as well as several sizes of staple items, usually found in only one size - small and expensive - in other convenience stores. Special orders are gladly accepted and filled for foods not usually carried at Mr. Mikey's or for special events and occasions. Sam says he will even deliver to local Niles residents if they have difficulty coming to the store. This is truly an old fashion country store with old fashion service!

A constant whirlwind of activity, Sam is never too busy to chat with customers and says that service is the key to success. He is constantly thinking of how his store can increase its value to the community. Mr. Mikey carries a full selection of quality wine and beer, including microbrewery selections. There is a gleam in Sam's eyes as he speaks about expanding the offerings of the store. He says some of his ideas include expanding the produce section to include more fresh vegetables. He knows it would add significant hours to his already heavy workload however, waking up in the early morning hours to buy fresh farm products would give Mr. Mikey's another dimension. Sam says he can sell these products at a very competitive price with his low overhead.

Sam feels that Mr. Mikey's is a market that can offer the majority of services of larger "supermarkets." He says, "We may not be able to stock everything, but Mr. Mikey's is competitive and offers a hometown atmosphere where customer service is our top priority." An application for a postal station is currently being considered by the post office. Postal services would be available for extended hours at Mr. Mikey's.

Maybe "Mr. Mikey" is a fictional character but Sam, an immigrant to the United States over 30 years ago has worked hard to realize the promise of this country. He and his family have evoked the real "Mr. Mikey" whose entrepreneurial acumen, community spirit and wholesomeness is a reminder of the values of calm and peaceful days gone by. Mr. Mikey's Country Store isn't simply about recreating a style of business that served small towns across America in the past, but rather a preservation of the quality of life reflected in the country store. Come see Mr. Mikey and experience American hospitality at its best.

Mr. Mikey's Country Store
37161 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(510) 574-0992

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