By Stew Gillmor.
Ming Chou is a most interesting fellow. Over breakfast at Jack’s Restaurant in Higganum Center the other morning, Ming revealed that he was born in Lafayette, Louisiana and formerly owned the oldest general store in the U.S., in Putney, Vermont. This store was featured in YANKEE and in other magazines. The Putney store offered 80% of its food goods in local and organic products, items much valued and even demanded by Vermonters.
Since purchasing the Village Market in May 2013, Ming has replaced the refrigerated food coolers and enlarged the floor space. His next move is to install new high grade flooring. The Village Market has considerably expanded its product lines and now carries 57,000 different product items, including 9,000 natural organic items. Ming has no family or relatives employed in his store staff of six full-time and twelve part-time workers. Several of his employees have been with him for 12 years. Ming’s hobby, one might say passion, is cleanliness, quality, and presentation of product. He is constantly comparing prices with other grocery stores, including the giant chain stores. The day we took the photos for this article, Ming was off at 8:30am to drive to Massachusetts to inspect another grocery. Recently, he drove to New York City at midnight just to study a noted all-night deli. His salads and deli items are made in his store and are always kept covered in clear wrap- No half-empty containers of potato or cole slaw salad in the deli case. At opening in the morning and at closing, all of his deli trays are cleaned and full.
Ming’s meats and deli items are well-known and bring numerous customers from Middletown and Killingworth. Often his best steak cuts are sold at very low profit margin. Ming’s philosophy is that excellent meats at a good price will bring in the customers who will then buy also their vegetables and other groceries. Meats and deli items account for about 40% of his business. Ming’s professional background includes years of experience in the restaurant and deli business, and he formerly managed a Chinese restaurant. Higganum Village Market’s reputation extends well beyond Haddam, as Ming has been approached to open a second grocery in another Connecticut town.
Higganum Village Market fills a definite need in town, in the second oldest commercial building in Higganum Center. According to the volume PORTRAIT OF A RIVER TOWN (1984), by Janice P. Cunningham and Elizabeth A. Warner, the Grange Building, housing the Village Market, was built about 1891, following the building of the Feed Store in 1880. Ming’s Village Market contributes to local church and charity drives with gifts and discounts. The market is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.