By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor
Want to visit a unique and interesting business? Check out Harris Grocery on Route 9N in Lake Luzerne, directly across the highway from New York State’s Fourth Lake Campground. It’s not just a store. It’s one personal, creative touch after another — on top of a history that embodies community and success.
I deliver Chronicles there every Thursday, but I’ve known proprietor Jim “Jungle” Mosher going back almost 40 years, when we were “road warriors” calling on small grocery stores — me hawking The Chronicle, Jim working for a beer distributor.
I got to know the store itself long before Jim and his wife Becky owned it. I sold advertising to Loren and Alice Harris who founded it. Fair, nice, direct people.
I realized what a sound little business they’d built, operating year-round where you might not have thought it possible.
But I had no inkling the degree of their success and depth of their community commitment.
Loren died in 1998 at the age of 89. Alice died on her 97th birthday, May 23, 2007. It was the Harrises’ store 1962 until 2001.
Alice hand-picked Jim and Becky to buy the business. Initially they said no. In 2001 they said yes. They also became Alice’s care-givers. (Now they’re hoping to sell the store again and retire.
When Alice died, she left $1-million in trust to fund college scholarships for Hadley-Luzerne graduates. A dozen students receive $2,000 per year for their four years of college. Jim says Alice’s view was: “If they’re needy, they’re needy. I want to be able to help kids go to school.”
Becky serves on the scholarship committee. She said Alice wasn’t focused on grades. “If they really had the desire to go, that’s who Alice wanted to help,” said Becky. She said they seek candidates where “this person’s gonna try their best, they’re gonna put everything into this.”
The Harrises also accumulated substantial nearby land holdings. Alice left 107 acres on Potash Mountain for preservation, again working through the school.
“Everybody loves Potash Mountain,” says Jim, who chairs the not-for-profit Harris Land Preserve, Inc. It is in the process of installing signage and trails to the peak, aided by the further donation by Richard and Joanne Sehlmeyer of 6.6 adjacent acres that connects the Harris preserve with the state-owned mountaintop.
New York State helped the project with a $105,000 grant, “earmarked for Trail Construction and Infrastructure,” Jim said.
“It’s gonna be a nice challenging little hike for anybody,” a short steep ascent from 645 to 1,750 feet, says Jim, who’s an Adirondack 46er.
Homemade art, homemade pie & humor all around…
Meanwhile, Jim and Becky run the grocery with the Harrises’ genuineness and inject their own touches.
Most noticeable is the original cartoon art that Jim creates — big illustrations on the wall that change with and celebrate seasons. The summer panel displayed now asks “Are We Having Fun Yet?”
From mud and maple to motorcycles and deep snow, Jim depicts life comically. He says customers particularly like his Merry Christmas, with Santa Claus gazing down on the store and realizing that already “these folks have everything.
Another signature — seen all over the place — is humor. A sign on the deli cooler: “This business is FAMILY owned and operated. ‘Shut up.’ ‘No, you shut up.’”
Another sheet on the cooler is headlined: “Below is a list of ways to win an argument with a woman.” Beneath it is blank space.
Becky makes pies and bakes cakes, preps fresh salads, too. The sub and sandwich business rolls along. Summer is the busy season, with the Fourth Lake Campground right across the road.
The store has a wall of kids’ stuff — squirt guns, toys, games. On a rainy day or once the kids get bored, they and parents alike must see it as a godsend.
Besides the basic food and beer, Harris Grocery merchandise ranges from camping gear and cowboy hats to bungee cords and books, plus Becky’s collection of giftware and Adirondack furnishings.
But if you’re only looking at the stuff that’s for sale, you’re missing part of the allure. Raise your gaze to the shelf near the ceiling and see a virtual museum of classic American products and packaging — from Dippity Doo to L&M cigarette signs.
Jim says he’s had people come in from out-of-town wanting to buy the whole kit and kaboodle, but he turns them down.
Last year when they thought they had a buyer for the business, Jim did sell some of the stuff and he regrets it. The buyer of the store ended up backing out.
Jim is eager to work with a purchaser, whom he’d urge to get into breakfast sandwiches; he says campers crave it. Jim says they didn’t get into breakfast originally because they didn’t want to step on the toes of a restaurant just up the road.
That restaurant has long since closed. The Moshers haven’t pursued the breakfast idea, because, one, Becky doesn’t have space in the kitchen as it is, and, two, it will require a significant investment that does not make sense for them now.
If the Moshers do land a buyer, they won’t go far. They’ll build a house on a lot they own a short distance behind the store.
Harris Grocery is still on the market.–– I joke with Jim and Becky that I’m betwixt and between — I want them to fulfill their dream of retirement by selling the store, but I don’t. They said they hear that a lot.
Equitas Realty has the listing. Katherine King, 518-524-9550.
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