By Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Buying a retail food store in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century is a challenge of its own. But nearly four months after re-opening, the Towne & Country Cheese Shoppe in St. Marys is not just surviving; but growing its customer base through a series of innovative steps.
The Independent checked in this week with co-owner Amie Shackleton, who along with Jen Stacey, Derek Shackleton, and Paul Sheppard, purchased the Cheese Shoppe on October 1, 2020.
“We are so happy that we have been able to keep the Cheese Shoppe open for our town,” said Shackleton of the business which has been a mainstay in downtown St. Marys for 30+ years. “We have felt great support from our community and I think being in a pandemic has encouraged the local community to shop local.”
The primary focus for the Towne and Country Cheese Shoppe & Deli is to provide hearty, homemade meals to customers at a reasonable cost.
“Our fresh made sandwiches are second to none,” said Amie. “We pride ourselves on using fresh qualify ingredients for each sandwich. Our staff are true sandwich masters and we are proud they take so much pride in the work they do.”
Of course, as the business name suggests, they also carry a wonderful selection of cheese, with close to one hundred varieties and growing.
“We have expanded our cheese selection, bringing in new cheeses for customers to try. We put together Mystery Cheese Bags, where you buy a Mystery Cheese Bag with sample sizes of cheese so you can explore new cheese options.”
“Cheese of the Month” Club
A recent innovation at the store is the Cheese of the Month Club, which was a concept that was discussed amongst the ownership group that blossomed into reality during the Christmas season when a customer reinforced the idea by asking about it.
“With the Cheese of the Month Club, we are looking to help customers learn about new cheeses from all around the world as well as from right in our own backyards. Each month we will put together three or four different varieties of cheese for people to enjoy. Club members receive about 1.5 pounds of cheese each month. Within the package, you will receive tasting notes, cheese profiles, serving and pairing suggestions. We are also compiling some recipes for you to use with your cheese,” said Shackleton.
To participate in the Cheese of the Month Club, the cost is $30 per month if prepaid for three months or more, or $35 for one month. People may sign up on their own or buy a membership for others as a gift. To register, please email email@example.com, call 519-284-4508, or visit www.cognitoforms.com/TowneCountryCheeseShoppeDeli/CheeseOfTheMonth.
“We have had some great feedback so far from some of the people that have received their COTM bags. Some people are even having wine and cheese parties via Zoom with their friends to help connect during this difficult time.”
Online ordering system
The Cheese Shoppe is one of a number of local businesses, such as Social 31 Restaurant, Sam’s Home Hardware, and Snapping Turtle Coffee Roasters, who have adapted to current COVID restrictions by introducing online ordering.
“We have set up online ordering to reduce the need to be in our store for as long. You can order and pay from your phone, then just pop into the store for a quick, contactless pick up. While we still welcome people into our store, we are doing our part to control the spread and keep people at home. We have recently secured the technology to do curb side pickup and will also be doing local deliveries.”
New look, new items
New ownership of the Cheese Shoppe brought new ideas, and a new look – not just in the store but also with regards to the business’ logo and marketing efforts.
“We wanted to give the Towne and Country Cheese Shoppe a fresh new look to go with our renovated store front. We have rebranded with a new logo, and a short-term goal is to change our storefront sign for a fresh and up-to-date look,” said Shackleton.
Inside the store, customers will find a streamlined sandwich selection to make it easier to order their meals. Meanwhile an expanded freezer section has been installed.
“We are thrilled to be able to offer both frozen and hot meals for families and we are also going to start marketing to those people that live primarily by themselves to provide them fresh, wholesome meals. We know that many people are struggling during this time, and we want to be able to provide great quality homemade food to as many people as possible.”
Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Marys Independent