It was right in front of my eyes
After high school I was, like most young adults, ready to get as far away from my hometown as possible and create experiences on my own. During my first week at college, I was busy meeting new people and planting new roots. But of all the conversations I had that week, it was one about my hometown that still makes me smile when I think about it.
The conversation was with a junior from Long Island, NY. During introductions, she asked the common question of where I was from. Rather than trying to explain where Tupper Lake was, I simply stated, “The Adirondacks.” After all, I was eighteen and so ready to escape my hometown that I truly believed some cool twenty-year-old Long Island girl would never know where Tupper Lake was. Heck, she might not even know what I meant when I said, "Adirondacks" — really I should have just said, "Upstate."
To my surprise, however, she did in fact know where the Adirondacks were, and she even delivered a follow-up: “Oh, cool… where about? I used to camp in the Adirondacks every summer with my family.” When I informed her that I was from Tupper Lake, I was stunned by her response. “Tupper Lake! Really? That is the town that has the cool IGA that carries your groceries out for you! What’s the name… I know it starts with an S... Shaheen's.”
When you think of the things that are cool, unique, and maybe even a little remarkable about your hometown, the last thing you think about is your grocery store!
Nearly fifteen years later, a lot has changed in my life. For one, I'm back in my hometown of Tupper Lake — a place that rather than dreaming of escaping from, I actually catch myself at least once a day thinking about how lucky I am to be able to live, work, and raise a family here. But the one thing that I do sometimes still take for granted is just how cool Shaheen's IGA is. It's mostly because after a while, it just becomes the everyday norm (and as a mom of 3 hungry kids — going to the grocery store is pretty much a daily norm). Thankfully however, I still have that brief conversation with a stranger from Long Island to remind me just how remarkable my hometown grocer is.
Welcome to Shaheen’s IGA
Located on Park Street in Tupper Lake, Shaheen's IGA is more than just a grocery store... it's a landmark, a integral part of the community, and a friendly reminder of what life in a small town is about. Shaheen's (Yes, locally you rarely ever hear someone say "IGA") isn't just a staple for residents, it is the one-stop-shop for campers, hikers, and travelers as they pop in to grab everything they need for for their next Adirondack adventure. But what makes this store stand apart isn't just the great selection they have packed on their shelves, it's the uniqueness that makes it stand apart enough to have someone remember their shopping experience for years to come.
The 7 Wonders of Shaheen's IGA
1. Four generations, more than 90 years
In an era of Wal-Mart, Costco, and Sam's Club (and endless other chain grocers), family-owned mom-and-pop grocery stores are somewhat of an endangered species, which in itself says something about Shaheen's IGA. Founded in 1926 by a family from Lebanon, Shaheen's IGA recently celebrate its 90th anniversary. The fourth generation of family is now working in the store. Odds are that no mater what time of day it is when you stop into Shaheen's, you will most likely find one or more from the Shaheen family working the floor alongside their countless employees. So, whether you are a local grabbing some milk or a visitor replenishing your travel snacks, among the many friendly faces that look up to greet you, a Shaheen is most likely among them.
2. One awesome deli!
At first glance, it might not look like anything special, but trust me, you need to take a second look. Beyond all of the different deli meats and cheeses being cut to order by more friendly faces, you will find subs, sandwiches and salads. The salads are a hit! All 100% homemade — yes, none of that over-processed pre-made potato salad glop here! These are a savior for last-minute dinners or grab-and-go picnics. I'd tell you my favorite, but there are too many.
Then there are the subs, sandwiches, and wraps. Now, I'm afraid to let this secret out of the bag, for fear of creating more congestion near the deli counter, but if you are looking for a high quality sandwich, large portions, and a great price, Shaheen's deli will not disappoint. I've learned my lesson and unless I want to make two meals out of it... I opt for the sandwich roll, because trust me, they don't go light on anything!
3. The beer selection looks fantastic!
From the deli, you approach the beer selection. My husband and I often joke about the beer selection at Shaheen's. Not because it is a joke, but actually the contrary. First, for a smaller grocery store, it offers a larger selection of both domestic and craft beer than most large chain grocers. And as a craft beer fan this is definitely a perk. But what really baffles us is how good the display case always looks. Seriously, I think they must restock the beer cooler every five minutes so that every customer has the experience of picking their beverage of choice without the distraction of what the last person chose.
4. World's greatest sausage!
Shaheen's is home to what most will agree might just be the world's greatest sausage. But before I get to that, we need to talk about the meat selection in general, because that alone is pretty remarkable! Unlike some large chain supermarkets, Shaheen's IGA still has a butcher and you can choose to get fresh cut meat from their meat rack or custom order your selection just about any way you would like. But one item you won't need to custom order is the sausage; the famous house sausage, a.k.a. "Joe's Sausage," truly is some of the best Italian Sweet and Hot Sausage you will ever find. Whether you are using it for grilled sausage with peppers and onions or grabbing some to put in sauces, soups, or on pizza, consider yourself warned. Once you have the homemade sausage at Shaheen's you will be ruined from ever having run-of-the-mill sausage again! Also in the line of sausage you'll find Joe's XTRA hot with jalapenos, and a milder breakfast sausage.
5. The secret to fast checkout lines...
Another surprise that you will find when you first walk in is that there are only 2-and-a-half checkout lanes. So your initial thought, especially on a busy summer afternoon is: I'm going to be in here forever! Trust me, when it is time to checkout your mind will change so go get what you need! Okay, got it all... now go check out.
As you approach the checkout lanes you realize the lines are moving pretty quickly, but the shocker hasn't happened yet because you are busy unloading your items from the cart to the counter. Okay, now you are done and you look up... What? Are they pushing buttons? Seriously, are they really typing prices on the items in manually? Where is the fancy scanner thing that is supposed to make everything faster, easier, and is simply the commonly accepted system by all stores?
Yup, there are no fancy barcode scanners at Shaheen's IGA, and you know what, I truly think they have proved it is faster.
6. "Would you like help with that?"
How fast the cashier checks out your order isn't the only surprise you will find in the checkout lane. Next comes the bagger who, if you have a large order, will automatically start loading it it into a bagger cart so that they can help you to load your groceries into your vehicle for you. If it is a smaller order that can be carried on its own, no matter the size, you will still be asked "would you like help with that?" This brings us back to that conversation I had a decade and a half ago — a carry out is not a thing of the past at Shaheen's, it is the norm!
7. "Have a good one?"
Yes, this one really makes me wonder! When you leave Shaheen's, it seems like your parting greeting is always the same: "Have a good one!" In all my trips in and out of Shaheen's (a number I never want to know) I think the traditional "have a good day/evening/night," has never echoed from the mouth of one of the cashiers or baggers. I doubt that they have been trained that way, it may just be something that started with one bagger or cashier and quickly got passed along without them even being aware. But, the cause of the greeting aside, it works! Just like you get to custom order your sandwich from the deli and your meat from the butcher, it is only fitting that you get to leave and choose what kind of "good one" you are going to make of the rest of your day, evening, weekend, or vacation.
Before your next adventure
Whether you are planning to go ice fishing on Simon Pond, camping at nearby Fish Creek or Blue Jay Campsite, or hiking to an area mountain peak, Shaheen's IGA is sure to have all your essentials and a friendly face to go with it. So before you start your next big Adirondack adventure, make sure to stop in to this one-of-a-kind grocery store, grab what you need, and then continue along to "have a good ______" (fill in the blank as you see fit: meal, picnic, hike, ride, adventure, etc.).