May 3, 2004 – St. John's Marina Market closed its doors for good on Friday. Owner Mimi Alioto said that after the Health Department's Environmental Health Division ordered her to close the store temporarily because of sanitation violations, she decided it was time to do so permanently.
"The store is old," she said on Sunday, and bringing the building up to standards would have to start with tearing the structure down.
Alioto, who owns the building as well as the business, said the structure is 30 to 40 years old. Making piecemeal repairs was akin to "sticking a finger in a dike," she said.
She said she plans to open non-grocery business at the location in about a month. "It's time to do something new," she said.
The Marina Market at Red Hook on St. Thomas will remain open.
Alioto declined to enumerate the reasons the Health Department ordered the closing of the St. John store but said one violation was that not all the meat packages had meat-handling stickers. She said she had ordered more stickers, but the company sent the wrong product.
Health Commissioner Darlene Carty did not return a telephone call requesting comment, not did anyone in the Environmental Health Division. Alioto said a federal agency was involved in the inspection; efforts to identify the agency were unsuccessful.
She said she harbors no ill feelings toward the Health Department for the closing and supports its efforts to make sure supermarkets comply with health code provisions. "This facility is not going to make it in today's health market," she said.
She said the St. John market was originally a house, then was operated as Nehi Market.
It's Alioto's assessment that small grocery stores housed in facilities not built for the purpose will not survive, and Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik agrees. Such buildings often lack adequate means of keeping out vermin as well as other modern supermarket necessities, he said on Monday.
"That's not to say large supermarkets don't have rat dung," he added.
Rutnik said the Health Department is seeking to implement a universal health code of rules and regulations for supermarkets and restaurants. When the code takes effect, he said, some small restaurants also may have to close because they can't meet the standards.
While Rutnik favors stringent health codes, he said he mourns the loss of one of St. John's popular supermarkets. "I love Mimi's fruit and vegetables and her wine, and she had good prices," he said.
Many St. John residents trek over to St. Thomas for their major grocery shopping but depend on stores such as Marina Market to fill in the gaps. Others do all their shopping at St. John's smaller stores.
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