John’s Fine Foods celebrates major anniversary in September

John’s Fine Foods celebrates major anniversary in September

Bev and John Hitchings are pictured behind the deli counter in their store, John’s Fine Foods located at the corner of North Avenue and Temple Street in Owego. (Photo by Rick Stilson)

Fifty years ago it was Hathaway’s Fine Foods, owned by Clarence ‘Stub’ Hathaway, and a young man was celebrating his first anniversary working behind the meat counter. John Hitchings had learned the meat cutting trade in Florida, going to work for a family member in 1960. By 1963 Hitchings was behind the counter in the store he now owns.

John’s Fine Foods at the corner of North Avenue and Temple Street in downtown Owego is quietly celebrating John Hitchings’ 51st anniversary at the store this September. There will be sales and specials coming up everyone should watch for, many featuring the Shur-Fine foods John’s stocks. But perhaps the most valuable thing anyone can get at John’s Fine Foods is a chance to speak with the busy owner.

Hitchings is a hands-on owner, whether behind the deli counter cutting and packaging meats or filling the orders of fresh deli slices from a steady stream of customers. “Cole slaw?” Hitchings responds to one customer, “suurre!” “Cheeseburger? Yes sir,” to another.

That order may catch you by surprise if you didn’t know John’s is known as a good place to grab an affordable delicious hot lunch. Ryan Rennells, a manager at Home Central, said he makes lunch at John’s a regular part of his day.

“It’s a nice, quick little pit stop,” Rennells said. Rennells has Fridays off, and that is a downer. “They have fish on Friday, I always miss that!”

The Friday fish fry has been going on for some time, Hitchings said. It started when a deliveryman would drop off ten or 15 pounds of fish each Friday. Eventually the driver passed away, and Hitchings went to the Endicott distributer to get the fish himself. Now, Hitchings said he sells a lot more than the 10-15 pounds that started it all. And with the demand came the need for someone to prepare the fish.

Bev’s Famous Friday Fish Fry was born. Bev is Bev Hitchings, John’s wife since 1976, three years after he bought the store and changed the name to John’s Fine Foods.

“We go out of our way to serve everyone,” Bev Hitchings said.

During this third anniversary of the 2011 flood, things are going well at John’s, but there is still work to do as recovery continues. That flood hit John’s Fine Foods hard, with several feet of water in the store. Cleaned and disinfected quickly, the vital downtown grocery store was up and running quickly after the flood. It might do well with a new floor, but some customers find the atmosphere in the neighborhood grocery store that is John’s Fine Foods priceless. A piece of America that still lives in downtown Owego.

John Hitchings is one of Owego’s keepers, retaining the memories and stories of the tale that has led the village to where it’s at now. His uncle Delbert Hitchings, who John moved to Florida with, was one of the founders of the Boys and Girls Club. A trip downstairs with Hitchings reveals a treasured scrapbook with pictures that went through the flood. There’s a young Jim Raftis with his date, there’s a group of young men going off to World War Two. There’s a clipping that recounts the founding of the Boys and Girls club.

Hitchings retains those stories, and shares them with some friends who stop by. Always working and greeting customers, monitoring the fire scanner on his hip (Hitchings is a long-time member of the Owego Fire Department), Owego is privileged to have a neighborhood grocery store owned by one of its local sons.

“Life goes by quickly, it doesn’t feel like fifty years,” Hitchings said. Here’s to another 50 years for John’s Fine Foods, an Owego original.

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