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The Pine Hills Market

July 3, 2012

by Erwin Contreras

For close to 20 years now the Pine Hills Market, a family owned and operated convenience store, has been going strong from the corner of Hudson Avenue and Ontario Street. The small market fills everyday needs and even a sandwich craving  at the wee hours of the morning in a town with college students who are non-strangers to pulling all-nighters.

Here at the Pine Hills Market, owner Hasmakh Patel, stands in front of the counter daily, usually  with a smile and constant sense of humor. Patel, known to the majority of his customers as Harry, has been here at the store for a little bit more than two years after a partnership with his brother in- law who ran the store full time. Patel feels as if he’s owned the store for the full 20 years and he thoroughly enjoys the interaction with the college crowd.

Harry Patel (Right) entertaining his customers as Sammy Baatai (left) takes grill orders.

“It’s very friendly and safe, a good place to work,” said Patel.

At the store, which operates from 10 a.m. through 4.a.m. daily, Patel talk with genuine affection about his customers. They  know him on a first name basis and vice-versa. Regulars greet him with an emphatic “Harry,” or “what’s up Harry? How’s it going today?”

Patel’s store offers a variety of items for a town filled with college students, which account for approximately 75 percent of  the business. Here shoppers can grab a gallon of Arizona iced tea, bread, bath tissues or dish washing soap, and even dog and cat food all for relatively comparable to neighboring chain stores such as Price Chopper and CVS. At all three locations a shopper can buy a gallon of Lipton or Arizona iced tea for around $3.99 and milk can be purchased for around $3.19 at each store as well. Cereal products at all three stores were also comparable, prices for most ranged from $4 to $4.49 with Price Chopper having the lower prices because of weekly specials that Pine Hills does not offer Still, although prices are actually pretty similar, it’s the friendly customer service that Patel believes makes some of his customers choose his small family run market over the bigger chains.  But Patel said he wishes his prices could be even lower to help out what he calls his “friends” or customers.

Although Harry’s Pine Hills Market is only comparable to prices at the other two stores, Harry’s store has one amenity that may be even better than saving just a few cents shopping elsewhere; the grill.

On weekends, 26-year-old store chef, Sammy Baatai, who’s worked there for the past five years stands firm at his post behind the grill taking orders from some of the estimated 900 customers that enter the door daily.

Here Baatai unfailingly works up the market’s most popular sandwich, the bacon egg and cheese – offered for $3.50 or $4.50 depending on the buyers selection of a roll or hero respectively. During the school year,  perhaps 150 times per weekend he makes the sandwich for college students who often come in late during Friday and Saturday nights looking to satisfy a craving after a night out drinking.

Pine Hills doesn’t just offer bacon egg and cheese sandwiches however, its deli and grill menu reaches far beyond, offering burgers, fries, beef patties, and breakfast throughout the entire day. Baatai, who similarly to Patel believes the location of the store is extremely convenient to the residents of the area, also knows his customers well.

Over this year’s spring break Patel left Baatai in charge of the store with SUNY students all on vacation causing business to slow a bit and giving 43-year-old Harry, who works 12 hour shifts from 4 p.m. to 4.a.m. daily, an opportunity for a much deserved vacation. During the week, Baatai said he didn’t see business slow down too much albeit University at Albany students weren’t around and he did close three to four hours earlier than normal. In addition, Baatai, who carries a more serious demeanor in comparison to the older owner, Patel, was surprised during that weekend by the amount of people not trying to steal, often a problem for the small store when drunken customers arrive.

Its when the store is busy,like this, that items will get stolen. / Erwin Contreras

Petty larceny is a problem at the Pine Hills Market. It seems to Patel, that his customers only try to steal when it is late and they have had too much to drink.

“They don’t want to, but do so because they aren’t thinking and are drunk,” Patel said. Often when he finds a customer trying to sneak a bag of Skittles or bottle of juice from the market he reprimands them and asks them politely to exit and come back when they are in the right state of mind.

“Every customer is valuable, you don’t want to lose them because they made a mistake and weren’t thinking right,” said Patel.

With a customer who he considers a friend trying to steal from his own store, one would think that Patel would be fed up and want a rest, but he says the opposite, he’s disappointed. “Sundays, Sundays are too peaceful,” said Patel.

One customer who never fails to show up even on Sundays is Nick Gorski, a 23-year-old Albany art major who lives on nearby Hamilton Street. Gorski, part of a statistic that makes tobacco products, sandwiches, and alcohol the top grossing items in the Pine Hills Market is an avid lover of the store’s consistently ordered bacon egg and cheese sandwich.

Patel envisions himself in the neighborhood for quite a long time to come.

“Its awesome, it’s like they stuff it with all you need all the time” said Gorski. He comes to the store everyday because of its convenient distance. Gorski said he is thankful for the Pine Hills Market and he admires the characteristics of its employees.

“These guys are good guys, legit good guys,” Gorski said, “They deal with a lot of fights and customers stealing and still keep an upbeat and welcoming personality its great.”

Patel and Baatai see no slowing down for the Pine Hills Market anytime soon, and don’t see their days at the corner of Hudson and Ontario ending in the near future. “We hope to serve for many years to come, it is a joy to work in this college environment said Patel. “I wouldn’t change a thing.” -30-


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