Delighted Point Lookout residents shopped at Aggie's Market and Kitchen Thursday, the official opening of the only grocery in the hamlet after its more than 80-year-old predecessor closed about one year ago.
The original store, Merola's, opened in the early 1930s, said Don Kelly, one of the founding members of the Point Lookout Historical Society and a lifelong resident.
The family-run store operated on Lido Boulevard until about a year ago when -- though the community raised $50,000 for it -- the store closed due to financial troubles, he said.
Once it closed, residents used to walking to the store were forced to drive a few miles to Long Beach, Merrick or Lido Beach to shop -- until Nick Trabulsi, a 45-year-old Point Lookout resident, leased the property and opened another grocery, named after his mom.
Aside from technological additions to the store, Trabulsi completely redid the store -- adding more doors to the front and changing the layout inside.
"I know what it was like to drive over the bridge to go to Merrick," he said. "It was inconvenient, to say the least. For some people it's impossible. There are a fair number of seniors living here who can't get out of the house."
Between repairs and renovations, some due to flood damage from superstorm Sandy, Trabulsi estimates that he's invested about $400,000 in the business. Despite the store's prior fate, Trabulsi isn't worried about finances.
While he is trying to maintain the same feel the store had before -- even hiring former staff members for the same positions they held at Merola's -- Trabulsi is making a lot of changes. These include using portable credit card machines for food orders, and technology to track what is and isn't selling in the store. He also plans to start a grocery delivery service in the fall.
A chef by trade, Trabulsi is taking particular enjoyment in ramping up the prepared foods department.
"Everything we make is homemade," he said.
Residents were happy to see the store reopen.
Helen Pujol, 83, and her husband Renee, 95, have lived in Point Lookout for 40 years and came to the store every day before it closed.
"We're very happy to come here," Helen Pujol said. "We walk here. We like walking."
Aside from being convenient, customers said the quality of the food at Aggie's is better than that at chain stores.
Merola's "always had a good reputation for their meat department," said Lydia Flynn, 49, a 20-year Point Lookout resident. "Looks like they're following through."