Store meant more than business for couple

Carl Herb, front left, talks with his wife Cindy Herb at Cindy’s Grocery on May Street in Naugatuck on Dec. 31, which was the last day the store was open. The Herbs owned and ran the grocery store for 37 years. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — On New Year’s Eve, a constant stream of customers passed through Cindy’s Grocery on May Street. While some were there to pick up groceries, most just wanted to say goodbye.

After 37 years, Naugatuck residents Cindy Herb and Carl “Herbie” Herb decided to close Cindy’s Grocery for good on Monday.

The couple, which owns the building at 18 May St., opened the store in 1981 after a liquor store that used to be were the store was closed.

“So the store was empty. Being young I wanted to do a little corner neighborhood store. I thought it was so exciting at the time,” Cindy Herb said. “So we started from nothing and built it up.”

They would open early in the morning, with Carl Herb at the register. After their children went off to school, Cindy Herb would come in to take over, allowing Carl Herb to go to his regular job as an accountant.

Over the years, the store would only close on Christmas day.

“Lots of hours, lots of days, lots of years,” Cindy Herb said.

As customers came and went on its last day, many spoke of fond memories at the small grocery store.

Rich Westhaver, who lives nearby the store, said he’s been a customer since 1997.

Whenever he came to the store, Westhaver said, he would see someone he knows or just talk with the Herbs. Sometimes running to the store for a bottle of soda took up to two hours, depending on who was in the store at the time, he said.

“This store isn’t just a store. It is actually like family. People come here and become family,” Westhaver said. “My kids would come in here and to them it’s ‘Uncle Herbie’ and ‘Aunt Cindy.’ It was always that.”

For the Herbs, being part of the community was as important as selling items at the store, whether that meant pinning a boutonniere on a groom or enjoying a few moments with high school students who came in before prom to show off their gowns and tuxedos.

“When a little one comes in and you give them a lollipop just because they are cute. Then they run around and hug your legs like you just gave them a million dollars. Those are moments you can’t put a price on,” Cindy Herb said. “We have formed some truly wonderful relationships with the people who have served us and by serving people. God has truly blessed us in this corner.”

Even after 37 years, Cindy Herb still remembers the first two customers. Two teen boys were looking through the store’s window before it had opened when she decided to let them in.

“I opened the door and asked if they would like to come in and see what was going on. The two of them came in and bought a bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup,” Cindy Herb said. “Then they walk in years later and introduce their children.”

Christian Herb, one of the couple’s three children, grew up at the store. He said it taught him and his two siblings the importance of hard work and gave them a sense of community.

“I really believe it is in the fiber of who I am as an adult. It taught us to be community-minded. It meant the world to me. I couldn’t imagine being raised any other way but in a family business,” Christian Herb said.

After decades of being in business, Carl Herb, 72, and Cindy Herb, 68, said the time was right to close the store.

“While we still have our good health we need time to go home. I just want to go home. I don’t want to travel. I don’t want to do anything exotic. I just want to go home and, on a snowy day, have a cup of coffee, see that it is snowing, and say, ‘I don’t have to worry about how I am going to get down Millville Avenue, across town and back up May Street to get to work,’” Cindy Herb said.

Cindy Herb said she’s looking forward to watching their grandchildren’s sports games and going to church with her husband, together. Over the years, manning the store meant they would often have to do things like that separately, she said.

Carl Herb, who is also a burgess on the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, said closing the store will give them more time to do what they love.

“All our life it has been God, family and country. This is just more time to get closer to those three,” he said.

The Herbs own the building, which includes residential apartments on the second floor. Cindy Herb said there is no plan yet to sell or rent the store.

“We thought we would get through this process first and then we will make a decision after that,” Cindy Herb said.

Cindy Herb said the world will go on after they close, but the two of them will always cherish the memories they made at that little grocery store.

“We met the most wonderful people. I couldn’t have been any luckier on any corner in anywhere in the world,” Cindy Herb said.