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Shubie’s celebrates 70 years in business

MARBLEHEAD — Shubie’s Marketplace, known for its assortment of fine wines, beers, spirits, prepared foods and salads, is celebrating its 70th anniversary of serving customers.

There’s a cafe where you can grab sandwiches. There’s a case with all manner of domestic and imported cheeses and gifts that run the gamut from “Marblehead” mugs to marathoner Shalane Flanagan’s cookbook. 

Its owners, George, 66, and Carol Shube, 62, and their youngest son, Doug, 29, all work 60 to 70 hours a week.

“It’s all about our customer, and that’s what we are here trying to make it about,” Carol Shube said.

“It’s just giving them, really, a great experience they can’t find at a Costco or a Walmart,” Doug Shube said.

Shubie’s started as a 500-square-foot liquor store attached to the former Shube’s Market on Atlantic Avenue, where the CVS Pharmacy is now. 

George Shube took over the business in 1976. Over the decades, the store evolved into a 10,000-square-foot market at 16 Atlantic Ave.

Bill Shube, George’s father, first purchased a liquor license in 1948 from the Colbert family. The package store was connected to Shube’s Market, which was owned by George Shube’s aunt and uncle. That market had been started by George Shube’s grandparents in the 1920s. The market and the liquor store were run as separate businesses, despite the family connection.

George Shube said they used to answer the phone “Colbert’s Liquors” until 1986, when the liquor store moved into what is now West Marine at 32 Atlantic Ave. Shubie’s official corporate name is still “D.J. Colbert Inc.”

They were at 32 Atlantic Ave. for 19 years. At first, Shubie’s rented half of the building, and J. Bildner & Sons, one of the first specialty stores around, rented the other half. Halfway through that run, Shubie’s knocked down the wall and took over the whole space.

The store then evolved from a package store to one selling fine wines, which has become George Shube’s specialty. His father was one of the first in the area to dabble in fine wines.

The soft-spoken George Shube credits his wife for being the “creative drive” behind Shubie’s vibe.

Prior to expanding, Carol had slowly added small racks of specialty dry goods such as oils, vinegars, salsas and chips.

“Nothing perishable,” was George Shube’s mantra, something Carol Shube ignored.

“He said ‘no perishables,’ and I said: ‘Yeah, perishables.'”

Fear about competition from big-box stores like Costco, which also sold liquor, beer and wine, also had them thinking about what else they could offer their customers, Carol Shube said.

“I think it was stupidity,” said Carol Shube of the expansion into prepared foods. “Had I known how hard it would be, or how challenging, we might’ve said: ‘Well, maybe it’s time to do something else.'”

On the move

In 2005, Shubie’s moved into a new building at its present location at 16 Atlantic Ave., at the site of a former gas station. It was the first time in the history of the business that the Shubes owned the building and the property for their store.

“That was scary,” George Shube said. 

The Shubes admit they are not ones to make sudden moves. In 2005, shortly after moving to their new building, they purchased the lot next door at 18 Atlantic Ave. with the idea of using it for parking, but other projects got in the way. 

In 2015, they had the building that was the former Sweeney’s Retreat restaurant torn down with the idea of creating an outdoor patio and more parking.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Carol Shube. “We are very slow, here.” she laughed.

They have also thought about expanding to a second location, but Doug Shube said they want to make sure Shubie’s is the best store it can be, for now.

Customer support

George Shube can often be found behind the cash register, while his wife is busy behind the deli case. 

“We have a good time here and the town’s been wonderful to us,” said George Shube. “The people support us wonderfully. People come in, I always joke, I always say: ‘It’s old home night every day.'”

In May, the Shube family put up a tent in the back parking lot and held a ticketed event with 300 people, featuring 70 wines and 10 tables of food. They raised more than $15,000 for the Friends of the Marblehead Public Schools.

“They are absolutely amazing community members,” said Beth Ferris, the executive director of the Marblehead Chamber of Commerce. Shubie’s supports a number of nonprofits and community organizations in town, Ferris said.

“Their customer service is better than anyone I have ever seen,” said Ferris, who counts herself a regular. The business was named the chamber’s Business of the Year in 2015.

One of Shubie’s regulars is Salem Congressman Seth Moulton, who grew up town.

“He likes our sandwiches,” Doug Shube said. “He’s a real great guy.”

In May, Moulton posted a photo of him standing with George Shube during Small Business Week to recognize the store’s anniversary.

“Shubies is the best, but of course I love the family so I’m biased,” Moulton said in a email. “So let me add this: I’ve had friends from New York City tell me unequivocally, ‘Shubies is the best grocery store in the world!'”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

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