Cook's Market in Greensburg closes after 27 years

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For 27 years, Cook's Market in Greensburg was more than a soup and sandwich shop; it was a place where customers became part of owner Gary Baum's extended family.

On Saturday, Mr. Baum and his immediate family -- all of whom had pitched in over the years to keep the small market running -- gathered there for its final hours.

"It's just time," the 61-year-old Mr. Baum said about his decision to close the grocer/deli on West Pennsylvania Avenue. "It's just economics. There's just nothing in town anymore. I'm definitely going to miss everyone. But it had to be done."

Cook's Market, across from the Westmoreland County Courthouse, was known not only for its deli food but also for the Dean Martin music that always could be heard in the shop.

"Dean Martin was the greatest singer on the face of the Earth," said Mr. Baum, who long ago placed a life-sized cutout of the singer next to his refrigeration units.

In addition to economics, Mr. Baum attributed the shop's closing to changing work styles and eating habits.

"People don't have to come in to town anymore to do their business. They all have computers that allow them to conduct it elsewhere," he said.

Mr. Baum called his market "an institution" in Greensburg but said little support exists these days for small, family-owned businesses.

"Over the past quarter century, we have continued the tradition of high-quality, personal service unique to the 'mom and pop' stores many of us grew up with," he said.

Mr. Baum bought Cook's Market from Bill Cook and kept the name. Before that, a butcher shop occupied the space in a brick building dating to 1893.

Mr. Baum said he and his family "hold dear" the close ties they have made with people from all walks of life, construction workers to judges. But, he said, he never realized how many of those people felt the same way about him until recently when hundreds stood in line to get into his store to say goodbye.

"They were lined out the door," he said. "It was one of the most heartwarming experiences of my life."

Susan DeJaiffe was one of those in line on Saturday.

"You'll greatly be missed," she told Mr. Baum. "I had to stop and tell you that."

Despite the closing, Mr. Baum said he's not ready to retire and may work for someone else.

He and his wife, Elizabeth -- who, along with their three sons, often worked side by side in the shop -- said they had hoped to stay open long enough for their grandsons to get involved.

"I'm going to miss it," said 11-year-old Josiah Baum, who at times helped his grandparents.

Josiah's cousin, Andrew Baum, 11, sold the shop's pepperoni rolls in the street in the summer, Mrs. Baum said, but Josiah's brother, Matthew, 7, never got to help at the store.

Linda Metz, freelance writer:

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