Big Al’s in Wiscasset has been a staple on Maine’s midcoast for 35 years. Now the Route 1 business is closing because of the pandemic-induced worker shortages.
“You’re competing with the government for employees,” owner Al Cohen said. “And they make a lot more working for the government than they do for me.”
Cohen said his part-time employees made nearly $240 a week, but on pandemic benefits, made $715 a week. Big Al’s manager Marian Theriault said she did everything she could to keep the “odd lot outlet” afloat throughout the pandemic but wasn’t surprised when she heard it was closing.
“I had kind of seen the signs of business going down, with the COVID and the economy,” Theriault said. “It wasn’t a shocker. But to hear Al verbalize it, it was a reality check.”
Theriault found Big Al’s 26 years ago in search of a flexible schedule after finding out her daughter had a heart condition.
“I wanted to work for somebody who, you know, not just be a number, would understand my situation,” Theriault said.
Going to Big Al’s ever since she was a child, customer Chelsey Alexander said she will miss having a place to shop for her three children. She said not only will she miss the store, but the employees.
“They’re [employees] all so nice,” Alexander said. “I know that he does a lot for the community and stuff too, so it’s definitely going to make a big impact on people.”
Alexander is not the only customer who is sad to see the super value store go. Cohen said he has spoken to customers that have the same feeling.
“Another lady told me she was going to be depressed when the last day comes,” Cohen said. “So will I, so will I.”
Big Al’s will close by the end of the year, and everything in the store will be 33 percent starting Sept. 20. Cohen hopes to lease out the building in 2022, and his firework store, located next door, will remain open.