Beloved local storeowners to stay in Park for now

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 5, 2013

 Gus Koupparis slices cheese in the butcher shop at the back of Fairfax Quality Market.

Gus Koupparis slices cheese in the butcher shop at the back of Fairfax Quality Market.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE PARK — It doesn’t have flashy signs, and unless you live nearby, you might not even know about it, but tiny Fairfax Quality Market — at 899 Beaconsfield, at Fairfax, in the middle of a residential neighborhood — is the kind of place where the owners know their customers personally.

So, when word came out that the city had purchased the property recently, alarm bells went off about what might be happening there.

But for those who’ve come to rely on the market, the good news is that owner Gus Koupparis and his wife, Rita, aren’t leaving just yet. Although they do plan to retire at some point in the not-so-distant future, the couple said they plan to continue running their store as they have for years. But with the departure of Gus Koupparis’ sister and brother-in-law — who left the business recently to move to Greece — the couple recognized that their demanding business, which is open seven days a week, might prove too much for just the two them.

“We’ll stick around,” Gus Koupparis said.

“As long as we can,” Rita Koupparis added.

Gus Koupparis bought the store in 1973 from a family from Greece. His wife initially stayed home to raise their children, but she joined her husband at the store about 15 years ago. He and his wife said they’ve been told it has been open as a market since the early 1900s and was the first A&P store in Michigan.

But today, “this is the only small store around,” said Rita Koupparis, noting the closure of other neighborhood stores like it, including Mulier’s Market on Kercheval in the Park. That store closed last March, after 75 years in operation as a family-run store.

Married for 51 years, the Koupparises are both originally from Cyprus but now live in Grosse Pointe Woods. They have two adult sons — one runs the advertising division for a major automaker and the other is a salesperson for a Detroit radio station — and three grandchildren.

On Halloween afternoon, flanked by locally baked pastries and a colorful and vast assortment of single-serve candy that daily draws students after school, Rita Koupparis beamed as she discussed their plans to pass out treats to costumed kids that evening.

“I love the kids, so I love when they come in. … They are sweet babies,” she said. The store has now been around so long that it’s not uncommon for customers the couple knew as children to stop by with their own little ones. Seeing those excited small faces is clearly a highlight for the owners.

“Some of the kids — they are like my own,” Rita Koupparis said. “They give you a hug and a kiss.”

Her husband has many fond memories of some of the store’s smallest visitors, as well.

“The kids from Trombly (Elementary School) — one time, they made us their biggest Valentine,” Gus Koupparis recalled, extending his arms out to show the size of the card made and signed by the students.

Rita Koupparis said they’ve become friends with many of their customers.

People like local school crossing guard Dave “Stewie” Stewart — who said he’s been visiting the store since the mid-1990s — can attest to that.

“They’ll do anything for you,” he said.

Marcia Hathaway, of Grosse Pointe Park, said the owners know members of her extended family.

“I always stop here on my way to the gym,” she said. “They have everything from cold (cuts) to fresh fruit to candy.”

Gus and Rita Koupparis both said they emphasize “good service” and personal attention, and customers appreciate that as much as they appreciate chatting with the couple, whether they’re making a purchase at the register with Rita Koupparis, or ordering meat or cheese at the deli and butcher shop in the back with Gus Koupparis.

Longtime customer Arthur Winston, of Grosse Pointe Park, said the couple provides “great service.” But that’s not the only thing that keeps him coming back.

“They’re good people,” Winston said. “They know the neighbors. They’re very nice.”

While the hours might be grueling, the couple said they’ll miss their customers when they do decide to retire.

“We’ve got good people,” Rita Koupparis said. “We love the people.”

Last week, City Manager Dale Krajniak said the Park purchased the property about three weeks ago. The agreement was to pay $350,000 for the property over the next seven years, he said. The city decided to buy the property after learning that the couple was contemplating retirement. While city leaders are happy to have the couple continue to run the store, they feared a new purchaser might bring in a liquor license purchased from outside of the city and turn the establishment into a liquor store. Krajniak said the couple has a six-month lease for now and can continue to stay there month-to-month after that for as long as they choose.

“He’s really been an asset to the community — just a wonderful guy,” Krajniak said of Gus Koupparis.

During an Oct. 28 City Council meeting, Mayor Palmer Heenan said the owner of a liquor store had made inquiries about purchasing the store, and officials were “concerned” because that store “brought in a clientele you would not want around.”

“I think it’s a good idea for the city to have control of the next tenant,” Heenan said. “That is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

City Council member Daniel Clark said they purchased this property for the same reason they’ve purchased other city properties.

“We don’t like leaving the proper development to the market or to chance … because we don’t want any activity that encroaches on a residential neighborhood,” he said.

If another owner who’d operate the site as a market doesn’t come along, Krajniak said “parking is the other option” for the site.