The Cumberland Bay Market became an integral part of the neighborhood for Kris and Stacey Ambler when they moved to Cumberland Head. “We shopped there, never thinking to go to the chains for gas, essentials and meat,” Stacey explained. “We felt a connection to the store.”
In 2018, when long time owners Brian and Mary Rabideau sold the market, the Amblers were disappointed. “Kris and I really enjoy projects, building and trying new things,” Stacey offered. “Over the years we had imagined what we would do if it were our store — updates, new items and more.” Stacey recalled telling Brian, ‘If we had known you were ready to sell, we would have purchased the store.”
Acknowledging that opportunity had passed, the Amblers went on to other things. Both were busy with their careers — he is an Internal Medicine specialist and president of the Northern New York Physicians Individual Practice Association (NNYPIPA); she works in his office, for NNYPIPA and wrangles two children under the age of six. But then the unexpected happened.
One day when Kris stopped by the market, the clerk called to the new owner, saying, “Dr. Ambler will buy the store if you want to sell.” Kris laughed, but thought about the idea on his short walk home. When he asked Stacey if she wanted to buy the market, there was no hesitation. Her answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!” Important to their decision was whether the staff would stay on. Once each one agreed, they called the owners, went back and forth a bit, struck the deal, and dove into the unknown world of food safety, gasoline management and retail.
Stacey’s educational background — degrees in Advertising/Graphic Design as well as Leadership and Organization Studies — proved to be an asset to what was the couple’s biggest project to date. “Having the skill set to create marketing collateral as well as a firm understanding of business was a huge help,” she emphasized.
Once the sale was complete, the Amblers jumped into major renovations. Not satisfied to just operate what they had begun to call “The Market,” they were ready to give it a complete overhaul. “I think we have touched almost every surface,” Stacey related. “Some for aesthetic reasons, some out of necessity.” The building was completely rewired, resurfaced and insulated. Every inside surface was touched as well, with a new ceiling, flooring, coolers, shelving, and paint. “Now it feels comfortable, inviting and clean to me — that was our goal,” she observed proudly. To assure staff and customers were safe, two UV systems were installed to clean the air. Additional projects that have been completed recently are new signage on three sides of the building and a beautiful garden funded through a grant provided by the Clinton County Health Department in partnership with the New York State Health Foundation. “The garden is a great example of what we consider the mission of The Market – a small, family-owned store that provides access to healthy foods for our neighbors,” Stacey emphasized.
The Market’s offerings underwent dramatic changes as well. “We created a specialty sandwich menu featuring The Kiteboarder, The Windsurfer, The Whitecap and more, all inspired by our proximity to Lake Champlain,” Stacey explained. She acknowledged it makes her happy when folks call and order a sandwich by name. There has also been a concerted effort to add healthy options for customers including a fresh fruit and vegetable section and, throughout the summer, marinated chicken and steak kabobs as well as their popular stuffed burgers. New beers, ciders, seltzers, and store items are added frequently. “Our regular customers know if there is anything they would like us to carry, we will,” she said. “Someone asked for coconut milk last week and we had it on the shelves the next day. That is one of the great parts of being a smaller store;, we have flexibility to try things and see if they work.”
The pandemic presented an unexpected challenge for the Amblers, but they enthusiastically stepped up. Kris’ medical background gave him a heads up on what was coming and The Market implemented safety precautions before anyone else did. Masks for all staff and a convenient curbside pick-up system kept customers safe and satisfied. “We became personal shoppers for our customers,” Stacey explained.
She was generous with her praise of The Market’s staff that worked long hours and long days to make sure people had what they needed.
A discussion about how to help folks “eat out” during the pandemic and still feel safe inspired a dinner-to-go option. Wednesdays and Fridays meals that only needed to be baked or put together were available. The concept was so well received it continues today. Specials included chicken cordon bleu, enchiladas, broccoli salad with almond dressing, subs, michigans, and master baker Heather’s amazing desserts. Everything is made from scratch.
The pandemic inspired The Market in other ways as well. “When meat prices rose, we did our best to avoid passing on much of the increase to customers,” Stacey said. “We all did our part. Kris and I, along with our wonderful staff, worked to keep each other and our customers safe. That gives me so much pride. I also think it connected us all a bit more. The community spirit truly lives at the Cumberland Bay Market. I had customers ask what they could do to help and staff worked harder than ever. All that helped to balance the stress over the uncertainty of our ability to precure food, offer stability for our children and continue to operate a medical practice.”
When asked about plans for the future Stacey didn’t hesitate. “Our concrete plans include continuing to expand our food selections – particularly in the creative healthy arena. As for our other plans, that is one of the things I enjoy about our marriage. Who knows? The staff, our customers and friends all have fun ideas. We are open to anything.”
Cumberland Bay Market
1544 Cumberland Head Road
Plattsburgh, NY 12901
www.cbaymarket.com – coming soon!