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October 22, 2018

Young couple snaps up former Nina's Variety in Falmouth

Courtesy / Jodie Sotiropoulos
Courtesy / Jodie Sotiropoulos
Jodie and Nicholas Sotiropoulos, seen here with their children at the Falmouth House of Pizza (owned by Nick's parents), purchased 125 Bucknam Road in Falmouth and plan to set up their own variety store and grill there.

A couple in their early 30s, looking for an affordable lease to establish a variety store and specialty grill, jumped at the chance to buy a property, instead, when they realized the purchase price would stack up just as well — even with the renovation costs.

Jodie and Nicholas Sotiropoulos purchased 125 Bucknam Road in Falmouth from K&N LLC for $460,000. Anthony Struzziero of Porta & Co. represented the buyer and Juliana Tonini of Magnusson Balfour represented the seller in the deal, which closed Oct. 3.

The property consists of a 2,541-square-foot retail building with an attached two-bedroom apartment and 20 parking spaces on 0.32 acre. The building dates to 1952, according to the property listing.

The retail portion was formerly home to Nina's Variety, a long-time staple for Falmouth. The location is at the busy intersection of Middle Road, Allen Avenue Extension and Bucknam Road, just off Exit 10 of Interstate 295. The property was marketed as a turnkey operation that would allow a new owner to take the store over immediately and either live in the apartment or use it for rental income. The price included all of the store's equipment except a couple of coolers owned by vendors and the point-of-sale system, which was leased but transferable.

A no-brainer

Courtesy / Magnusson Balfour
Courtesy / Magnusson Balfour
The Sotiropouloses purchased the former Nina's Variety with much of its equipment.

The Sotiropouloses are long-time Falmouth residents who began looking for a lease in early 2018, ruling out locations at the nearby Falmouth Shopping Center, which was purchased earlier this year by private local investors for $21 million.

"The rents were high, which was in line with the area and the traffic," said Struzziero. "Retail is doing well right now, which isn't any surprise to anybody in this market. As a result, rents are significantly higher than we've seen in the past, due to an uptick in retail traffic."

When the Nina's site hit the market, "It was a no-brainer," Struzziero continued.

"Once we ran the numbers, their cost of occupancy was roughly the same whether they owned that or rented one of those other spaces in that area," he said. "They want to be there long-term, and once you get into that situation, it make sense to own property, especially if you're going to improve it for your own use. If they had said, 'We want to be able to exit in five years after what we put into it,' I don't know that I would have been able to recommend it. But when you're talking about a long-term hold, it just made sense."

Tracking an opportunity

Courtesy / Magnusson Balfour
Courtesy / Magnusson Balfour
The new Ela Market & Grill is located at a busy intersection just off Exit 10 of Interstate 295.

Did 125 Bucknam Road just fall into their laps?

"In the community there was a sense that it might become available," Anthony Struzziero said. "We were aware it and we tracked it pretty closely."

The Sotiropouloses have deep roots in the local food industry. Nick's parents own Falmouth House of Pizza and Antonia's Pizzeria.

"I grew up in the Falmouth House of Pizza," he said.

Eventually, he took a hiatus from the family business to go into technology, working in web development and IT support. From there he transitioned into systems management for the family restaurants.

Jodie worked in the restaurant industry for most of her life; first, in her stepmother's pizzeria, Angelone's North in Portland, and as a restaurant server in Portland and Freeport through her teens and in college. She received a degree in communication and media studies from the University of Southern Maine. After college, she worked in marketing and public relations for a Portland agency; one account was a national restaurant franchise.

The couple had long thought about creating their own business.

"We looked at a few properties before Nina's Variety," says Jodie. "We saw a lot of spaces that were for lease but, after going over the numbers, we felt more comfortable investing our money into a place that we could purchase."

She adds, "We saw a lot of potential in Nina's Variety, and 125 Bucknam Road — both the retail/restaurant space and also the two-bedroom apartment. We loved the idea of revitalizing a landmark variety store that is no more than five minutes from where we live, and we also saw an opportunity to own an income property."

She said the location is ideal for the "fast-casual" food service they plan to offer. Close proximity to I-295 on and off ramps, to U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth and to Falmouth and Portland's residential neighborhoods makes the business easily accessible to customers, she said.

Living in the area, they regularly frequented Nina's. And they also saw there could be a market for specialty items.

"We're looking to serve the local economy and the local people and also the local farmers and producers," said Nick.

Key word: neighborhood

Courtesy / Magnusson Balfour
Courtesy / Magnusson Balfour
After renovations, the former Nina’s Variety will open as Ela Market & Grill.

The property needs to be brought up-to-date, the couple said. Work is underway by local contractors.

The amount of money needed for renovation is to be determined. The renovation includes new flooring, ceilings, HVAC systems, interior and exterior finishes and bar seating and improved landscaping.

"We envision a bright, inviting atmosphere," said Jodie. "We're putting in two large commercial glass windows that will open up the space. We always go back to the fact that it's a neighborhood market and specialty grill — and the key word is 'neighborhood,' so it's going to be a very homey feel, where you can pick up household items and get some comfort food."

The plan also includes enhancing some underutilized spots on the property, like a small stream out back and a big tree in front, which could be used for a seating area.

The couple also plans to renovate the apartment and use it as an AirBnB starting next summer.

"This additional income played a role in why we saw so much potential in this real estate purchase," said Jodie.

The business will be called Ela Market & Grill. "Ela" is a common Greek word that means "come here" or "come talk to me." The name is intended to pay homage to the new owners' Greek roots and the store's local heritage as Nina's Variety and its previous iteration as Page's Country Store.

"We hope our customers come and gather at Ela's," says Jodie.

The market will offer everyday items like coffee, fresh produce, local meats, breads and pastries, beer from domestic and local breweries, soft drinks, dairy products, dry goods, seasonal retail items, and a typical variety of candy, chips, lottery tickets and tobacco. The grill will prepare grab-and-go and a-la-carte items. The menu will consist of breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches and wraps, freshly made salads, gyros and specialty Greek, Italian and American dishes in individual and family size portions.

The establishment will be open year-round, with a target opening date of January 2019.

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