Central New York is marking the passing of a local retail icon and business leader. Bill Chanatry, owner of Chanatry's Hometown Market, on French Road, in Utica, passed away early Wednesday morning, at St. Luke's Hospital.
The Chanatry's legacy began with a push cart on Bleecker Street, in Utica. A storefront went up on Bleecker Street the year the Titanic sank; 1912. In 1938, a larger store, also on Bleecker. In 1965, the store moved to the current, French Road, location. It was in 1998 that Bill Chanatry, an engineer by trade, retired early from G.E. in order to buy out and take over the store. His recipe for success had few ingredients, but he used them unfailingly. He shared them during a 2012 interview, conducted by his granddaughter, WKTV's Kristen Copeland, marking the 100th anniversary of the store.
"Quality always, quality morning, noon and night, no compromises with it. The other is value and our passion to please the people," said Chanatry...and not just the people on the other side of the cash register. "We believe with all our hearts and soul, we have to treat our employees right. If an employee is not treated right, he will not treat customers right nor his peers. Ok, it's nothing more than the golden rule, but we insist on that."
Chanatry's has survived the depression, the recession, two world wars and big box stores. The endurance can be attributed to the shopper experience from the moment they enter the store, where one would be hard-pressed to find a barren or disheveled shelf, picked-over produce or unkind employee.
"Shopping in our store has to be easy, it has to be a pleasure, the store has to be abundantly filled, got to be friendly," said Chanatry.
Chanatry's legacy is evident in the store on the day of his passing. Hearts may be heavy, but the doors are open; shelves are full; produce, plentiful. Loyal employees are present, but their voices reflect the sadness they feel at the loss of their mentor.
"He was an owner, but the way he treated everyone around him, whether it be a bagger, or a manager, or a customer, he treated everyone with respect, treated everyone with a gentle hand. He was just a gentleman," said General Manager, Steve Brooks. Brooks has been with the family business for 20 years, never feeling like an outsider.
"Bill was a mentor to us all. There wasn't a time or person that he didn't have time to speak to. There's not anyone who would speak one ill word of Bill."
Calling hours for Bill Chanatry are Sunday, October 14, 3-6pm, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, in Utica.