WISCASSET, Maine — Every new year brings new beginnings, but for one Maine staple in Wiscasset, that means the end of a more than three-decades-long era. In early January of 2022, the self-proclaimed "the place to be" will be no more.
On Monday, Jan. 10, Big Al's Super Values is closing after 35 years of business. Owner Al Cohen said it wasn't an easy decision, but the coronavirus pandemic's impact has created unpredictability and tough work conditions with fewer employees.
"It was caused by the labor shortage," Cohen said. "I'm missing half the crew, and I just can't do it all by myself with the few people I have."
Cohen said his staff of more than two dozen has dwindled down to 11. He referred to his team as "family" and said he's hopeful about each person's future.
"Everybody who works for me can get another job the next day because, as you know, they're hiring everywhere. There's a labor shortage," Cohen said.
Over the years, Cohen has become known for his store — where you can get a lot of miscellaneous items you both need and never knew you needed — and his entertaining and somewhat outlandish TV commercials. Cohen said his reign has been "fun" and "enjoyable," but it has come at a bit of a cost.
"It's been a loss of privacy because no matter where I go, everybody has to do a selfie," Cohen said, while also noting, "It's been very good for the area. It's been good for the community, and I've had great relations with the community."
He said those relations are part of the reason he loved his job so much at the end of the day, watching people grow up and expand their families over time.
"I had four generations in the store the other day," Cohen said. "It's just a great feeling to see."
Even though his store is closing, Cohen will by no means be a stranger to his community. He said he'll still be in the fireworks business, and he plans to continue working at the local food pantry and serve on two town boards.
Everything at Big Al's Super Values is 75% off as of Sunday, Dec. 26.