Retiring Winooski corner store owner has connected the neighborhood for decades
When you walk into Chick’s Market on the corner of River and Hickok streets in Winooski, you see bags of chips and detergent on shelves, gallons of milk and sodas behind tall coolers, a deli counter and a kitchen griddle. And behind the register, most days of the week you’ll find owner Pam Vezina.
Pam started working at Chick’s in 1985. At the time, the store was owned by Dick and Carole Corbiere. They were family of the original Edmond “Chick” Dupont, who founded the corner store in 1944. In 1999, when the Cobieres were looking to retire, they helped Pam buy the market, allowing her to pay in installments over the next five years.
Now, she’s been behind the counter for almost four decades, a constant presence in a changing neighborhood.
“You know, I really love this store, and I love everybody that comes to my store,” she said.
But now, it’s time to retire. Pam said it’ll be hard to leave — from the beginning, it’s always been about her customers. She’ll listen to anyone who needs to talk, she puts out food on the stoop for stray cats and keeps a box of treats behind the counter for dogs. She’s watched children grow up, move away, come back, and have kids of their own.
She told a story about a boy she knew, who grew up down on Elm Street, and really wanted a lollipop one day.
“He was only four and he walked way up here to the store in his cowboy boots and underwear,” she recalled. “And he sat here, and of course the first thing his mom did was call here, because she knew that he was gonna be here with me — sure enough! Now he comes here and he’s all grown up, and if I mention it he turns all red,” she said with a laugh.
Chick’s is the kind of place you come to for a sandwich, a lottery ticket, toilet paper. But you get a lot more than that. It’s the kind of place where you are known, where your family is asked after, where there’s someone behind the counter who wants to know the true answer when she asks, "How are you today?’"
Diane Deso is one of Chick's longtime customers. She grew up around the corner and has been coming here since the late sixties, when she was a little girl. She got ice cream here as a kid and later, came in for candy with her own children. The place hasn't changed much.
"This is all the same right here," she said, walking through the aisle. "These are all the same coolers."
Today, she stopped in to place an order of five grinders. Chick’s Market is known for these massive sandwiches, big enough for two meals. Popular menu items include the steak and cheese grinder, or the breakfast sandwich that’s served all day.
Sonny, Pam’s husband and co-owner of the market, hand-peels 50 pounds of potatoes each night to make the next day’s side of fries. He says it takes him two hours.
This morning, Megan Johnson is behind the deli counter. She practically grew up at Chick’s — her mom, Erica, has been an employee here for over 20 years. Megan says Pam is like a grandmother to her.
“Pam took my whole family in,” she said. “We moved next door to Pam and met Pam, and since then it’s been this big family. Yeah, it’s gonna be really sad when it’s gone.”
Earlier this year, Pam and Sonny put the business and building up for sale. Pam says after all these years, it’s time to rest. They say they are looking for a buyer who will continue to run the business. But customers say it’s the person behind the counter that they’ll miss.
“You know, I’m a people person,” said Pam. “And I’ve been here for them if they need somebody to talk to. You know, some of them are young children that are lost. So, if they need to talk, I let them talk. Even grown-ups, you know, they’ve been through hell and back, and they need someone to talk with, so I talk with them.”
Pam said she serves everyone, sometimes giving out a sandwich or letting people run a tab they can pay off later. She said she's witnessed mental health crises and drug problems in the shop, and has learned the best strategy is to talk people through it.
Spend a morning at Chick’s and you’ll find that conversation, in all its forms, is part of its backbone.
“It doesn’t always have to be a sad story,” she added. “I like funny. We like laughters.”
Chick's is currently on the market, and Pam hopes it will sell this spring. But for a few more weeks, you can still find her behind the counter, ready to listen — and laugh.
This story was first reported for Seven Days in partnership with the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.