WISCASSET, Maine — Al Cohen held the store’s door open as the staff wearily headed home. There were “goodnights," hugs, and maybe a few tears. Then, after a moment, they were gone.
Al said quietly, “I guess I’m closing the door for the last time.”
And he did.
After 35 years in business on Route 1 in Wiscasset, Big Al’s Super Values has closed.
Al announced the closing back in September, saying the shortage of workers had finally become too difficult, with too much of a burden on his shoulders to handle all the physical work involved in running the discount store.
Customers have packed the store in the past three months to take advantage of deeper and deeper discounts on the countless items Big Al’s sold.
On Monday, those customers said thanks to the man who became famous for his gorilla T-shirts and wacky TV commercials. There were hugs and photos with customers, and some brought in cakes and cookies to say thanks.
One woman came up to Al in the aisle to thank him, telling how the store’s low prices had allowed her to buy gifts for the children over the years when money was tight.
“It’s bittersweet,” Al said of the final day. “After 35 years of coming here every day, it's kind of a weird feeling that tomorrow morning we won’t open for the first time. It’s a way of life for me ... and I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of the customers. It's been amazing.”
It's not the last day of work, however.
Al and his crew still have to empty out the store to get it ready to lease to another business. And he still has a huge warehouse with multiple truckloads of items bought to resell in the store. Those, he hopes, will be sold to other retailers.
“I expect to see my inventory in other Maine stores for the next five years,” Al joked.
Big Al isn’t going away. He said he will continue to volunteer at the food pantry, which he does each week, and serve on the town planning board, which he has also been doing for years.
And there is the Big Al’s Fireworks Outlet next door. Al said he'll be there when it reopens in April. And he plans to keep some of those TV ads going for that store — even giving a preview of the new ad’s tag line.
“Route One, Wiscasset, Boom! Boom! Boom!”