CHESTER, Vt. – Lonnie Lisai and his wife Obe retired as of May 22, 2020, after almost 30 years of running the store. The community of Chester welcomes Smitty’s Chester Market in the location of longtime Lisai’s Chester Market.
The Lisai’s family store was founded in 1926 in Bellows Falls by Lonnie’s grandfather Anthony, his brother Mike, and wife Lena. They sold the Bellows Falls store to Lonnie’s dad Lolik in 1956. Later, Lonnie’s brothers Gary and Brent took over, with the help of their dad supporting them.
As the Bellows Falls store grew, Lonnie, Brent, and Gary opened the Chester Lisai’s Market in 1993. “Chester was the perfect spot with a hardworking community,” Lonnie said. The town “fit our needs perfectly, and everyone was so receptive. It was a natural fit for our family and the community.”
Later, Lonnie and Brent bought out Gary, and ten years ago Lonnie bought out Brent.
Lisai’s Markets have always held a tradition of family and community support. “We supported each other as a family, in more ways than just financially. We had each other’s back and shared the burden of all the hard work. Having that support was huge.” Lonnie continued, “From day one, my wife took care of all the books and paperwork, so my brothers and dad and I didn’t have to worry about that stuff. And that’s also huge.”
The staff has also been a big part of the Lisai family, and so have the customers and community members that shop there. “Over 30 years, I’ve always had great staff.” Lonnie also noted that he had hired his nieces and nephews as high school students, which helped the process of hiring over 150 other students over the years. “I always took pride in all the students we hired; they learned a lot about working and work ethic.”
Lonnie and Obe are thankful to everyone involved. “It was a joint effort with community and staff, and we just happened to be the ones who ran the store. The community made it so easy for us.”
Obe expressed that they found the best person to pass the store onto. “It was obvious that Garrison has the community in mind.”
New owner Garrison Smith, rebranding the store as Smitty’s, plans to run the store with the same ideals and tradition. Though the signage will have a new look and feel, the integrity of the store will be the same, with plans to continue to evolve the store over the next five years, as Lonnie has during his ownership, and just make it a little bit brighter.
Updates include rearranging and reorganizing the store to make more room for more produce, adding more cold prepared meal options, offering fresh baked bread, and bring in more local products. New marinades will be introduced to the meat counter, but all of the recipes that came with the store will still be available.
Later, Garrison plans to eliminate the office area and open that up to a larger lunch area and tentatively offer breakfast options in the future.
There will still be the same deli with Bonny’s prepared home-cooked meals, which will soon offer family-size portions, and sandwiches are still made to order. Customers will also be greeted by the same smiling faces. There are plans to add more staff, including two meat cutters and a part-time person. “But personality matters,” Garrison said. “This is a family; the staff here works incredibly hard… We’ve got a phenomenal team.”
Garrison has lived in Chester with his family for seven years after visiting the area for over 20. “We love Chester.” Garrison is excited to be a part of the wonderful community and can’t wait to see you in the store. You can still call Smitty’s Chester Market at 802-875-4715; open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.