STOCKBRIDGE — The Elm Street Market, once a gathering place for groceries with a popular counter for breakfast and lunch, has fallen on hard times.
Rajeev "Raj" Verma, who took over ownership and management of the shop from the Fitzpatrick family, owners of the nearby Red Lion Inn, less than two years ago, said Thursday that he plans to shut it down in two to four weeks. He blamed a lack of staff.
But the store had failed a Tri-Town Health Department inspection late last week, said Executive Director James Wilusz, after his agents followed up on a complaint about the sale of expired food. Additional sanitation violations resulted in a temporary shutdown, he told The Eagle.
A reinspection Thursday found some improvements, resulting in a provisional approval to reopen, Wilusz added, "but I feel reserved about it."
"They're on a short leash," he said. "We're not going to compromise public health and safety. He needs to comply like everyone else." Wilusz said the market was assessed a "surcharge" because of the violations.
Verma, through a company called Verson USA LLC, purchased the building and the business from the Fitzpatricks for $450,000 in January 2018.
Verma said he is not yet putting the 4 Elm St. building on the market because, if the town amends its building bylaws, he might build a 15-room motel by adding several floors to the structure.
"A store depends on employees, but a motel doesn't need skilled labor," he said. Verma has lost staff members since he bought the business, including one hired by the Red Lion Inn. Verma claimed that he had an agreement with the inn not to hire away any of his employees.
In a brief phone interview, he did not mention the shutdown ordered by Tri-Town Health on Monday. "I restarted it today because I had nothing else to do," he said.
The property was built in 1914 by architect Joseph Franz, who later designed the Tanglewood Shed and the Jacob's Pillow Dance Theatre.
It has been a market from the start — McCormick's in the 1920s, followed by McCormick and Price (apparently as a small branch of the 16,000-store nationwide A&P grocery chain) and then Abdalla's, according to Barbara Allen, curator of the Stockbridge Library's Museum & Archives.
It was operated by James and Midge Shanahan as Shanahan's Market from 1978 to 1997. The Fitzpatricks bought it after the Shanahans retired and operated the store for 20 years as part of its Main Street Hospitality portfolio of businesses.
When Verma took it over, he said that "we very much intend to keep it as it is. We want to retain all the things that are here, but we wish to add a little bit more from my own cultural background, such as South Asian items, Indian cuisine."
But the store suffered a turnover of employees, and the available inventory started to decline rapidly this year, according to several customers who contacted The Eagle recently.