Co-owners and brothers Harjit and Manjit Singh first started saving up for their business back in 2005. Working for a distillery and a convenience store respectively, they put away money gradually, balancing supporting their families and their dreams for years. Both raising their families in Syracuse, it was only natural that when the time finally came to make their business ideas a reality, they looked for a lease spot in Syracuse. But, it was an empty brick store in downtown Ithaca that finally caught their eye in September of last year.
With Harjit’s knowledge of craft beer and Manjit’s experience working in a convenience store, the purpose of the Ithaca Mini Mart is plain: to provide the local community with access to the familiar convenience store items alongside a unique selection of craft beer.
While the opening of the store had always felt like a long time coming for the Singh brothers, COVID-19 had come with its own unexpected difficulties. “We were originally going to open in March,” older brother Manjit explains, “and then we had to postpone because of COVID. Then, we filed to open up in July and a fire sprinkler broke down upstairs and we had water everywhere inside the store. It delayed us until September.”
The brothers point to the Ithaca community’s loyalty to its local businesses for helping their store survive the pandemic, but are candid in their admittance that it’s still very difficult. “When we first came from Syracuse and looked at the place and liked it, there were a lot of crowds here. Then COVID came and I made another trip down to see what was going on and nothing was normal.”
However, despite the new normal of the world due to the pandemic, Ithaca was a saving grace to the brothers during their search for a place to make their business venture a reality.
“Actually we came here and talked to a few people and everyone seemed to give the right answer. We had looked for a long, long time and couldn’t find a good space. But we drove here and we didn’t even wait. We called the owner, said, ‘We like this place, so now what?’ And [we] signed the lease right there.”
While the Ithaca Mini Mart faces some competition from the gas station across the street, the Singh brothers’ unique appeal to the Ithaca area is clear: “Ithacans love craft beer. We get a lot of calls everyday asking about if we have craft beer,” they said. “We’re working on a license, but because of COVID, the process is slow.”
While a beer-selling license can take months to obtain, and likely even longer because of the pandemic, the store remains stocked and ready for the community. “We sell frozen food, coffee, snacks, cold drinks, tobacco products, and maybe down the road we’ll try [providing] Indian grocery. We get a lot of students looking for international grocery. So, we’ll have to look at the space left over [in the store] after the craft beer.”
The list of people to thank for helping to open the brothers’ business is long. Gary Ferguson from the Ithaca Alliance is cited for helping the brothers back when they had first tried to open in March. And of course, there is much to be said about the help the brothers received from each other in order to keep their shared hopes alive.
“I wouldn’t be able to do anything without my brother,” Manjit says. But the person who seemed most crucial to the store’s opening was the brothers’ mother. “If you work hard, dreams definitely come true,” Manjit goes on to say, “That’s what our mother keeps telling us, ‘You guys keep working, and one day you will achieve your dreams.’ God bless my mother,” Manjit jokes.
The Ithaca Mini Mart is located in downtown Ithaca at 124 South Cayuga St. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every night.