Convenience store open at Northampton's ‘Smith Corner’

Last modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — Since he opened the Smith Corner Convenience Plus store at the corner of Green and West Streets last month, owner Saadat Virk has been collecting daily customer requests on a yellow legal pad.

Playing cards, Greek yogurt and pencils are among the items he has added to the shelves in response.

On his own, Virk also decided to add duct tape and packing tape to the snacks, cleaning supplies, cigarettes, coffee and over-the-counter medicines that are among the items on offer at his store. He says he did so because he realized Smith College students, his main customer base, need supplies to pack up their dorm rooms at the end of the semester.

“My customers are very happy,” said Virk, 38, who lives with his wife and three children in West Springfield. “The students who are seniors say, ‘Why didn’t you open three years ago?’”

The new convenience store occupies Smith-owned space that had housed the Kumon after-school learning program for three years until it moved out last October.

Virk, who said he previously ran a convenience store in Chicopee, first began thinking about opening a store at the prime Smith Corner location in Northampton just off the college campus and across from Forbes Library about six months ago.

“I came here about six or seven times to check everything out,” he said. “All the students told me they need a store here.”

To ensure he has enough business when Smith is not in session, Virk has been handing out fliers in the neighborhood and stocking up on staples such as peanut butter and cereal he hopes will draw year-round residents.

He also expects to pull in customers from among participants in summer activities held on campus, including camps and lecture series.

Customer Alexei Kline, a Smith College sophomore who was at the store on a recent afternoon to buy clove cigars, said Virk’s business has been a welcome addition to the college community.

“Now, we don’t have to walk all the way to CVS,” on Main Street, Kline said. “And he is absolutely wonderful. If he doesn’t have something we want, he orders it.”

“He definitely has a Smith College following,” added fellow Smith sophomore Kyle Kaplan, who was buying snacks to sustain her through final exams.

Virk signed a one-year lease with the college March 15 and opened his doors at the end of April. He did his own renovations to the approximately 1,500-square-foot space, adding a coffee counter and a ramp leading to the store’s main sales area to accommodate customers with wheelchairs. A mural of a tree left over from the previous tenant remains on one wall.

Virk said he will hold a grand opening sometime later this month, after he secures state permission to sell Massachusetts Lottery tickets. In addition to food and household items, the store also sells phone cards and advertises Xfinity Wifi access.

A native of Pakistan, Virk said he came to the U.S. in 2010 after losing five family members to grenade and gun attacks on two mosques in May of that year. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings at the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore.

“It was a big blast and hundreds died,” Virk said.

Eventually, he hopes to move his family from West Springfield to Northampton.

“This is a good place, a really cool place,” Virk said. “Especially when I see the culture of Smith College, I’m very inspired. The students come from the whole world and they are living like family.”

From his post behind the cash register, Virk chats easily with customers who stop in, asking about their exams and whether they need cardboard boxes for packing up dorm rooms.

Regular store hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, but during final exams earlier this month at Smith, the convenience store stayed open until nearly midnight on several nights.

What’s his biggest-selling item, so far?

Virk said it would have to be the selection of chocolate bars.

“These students are girls and they like chocolate — also iced coffee,” he said.

Then again, “my first ring of the register was an apple,” Virk said.


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