PORTLAND – After working at Terroni’s Market for 44 years, Sheila Cunningham isn’t sure what she will do come Monday.

The market on Park Avenue, which has been serving food to the neighborhood’s residents, city officials and businesspeople since 1949, will close permanently today. Friday was Cunningham’s last day behind the counter.

And as regulars dropped in for lunch and said their goodbyes, it was an emotional time.

“Don’t get me crying again,” Cunningham said while reminiscing about her years at Terroni’s.

Noticing the sparsely stocked shelves and limited menu, Joe Farrell, a teacher at the nearby King Middle School, learned of the market’s fate when he stopped in for lunch. “What a shocker,” he said.

It was a shock for Cunningham, too, when she learned from owner Mal Mango that he was shutting down the business.

“It’s a long story,” Mango said Friday of his decision to close. “But in a nutshell, I can’t afford to do business anymore.”

Since he bought Terroni’s seven years ago, Mango said, property taxes have risen, along with the cost of the licenses he needs to run the market. That, coupled with a decline in business because people can’t afford to eat out as much, began to cut into Mango’s bottom line.

“It’s impossible to make a profit,” he said.

With an asking price of $169,000, the business could be acquired by someone who wants to carry on the Terroni’s legacy. Mango said he has an interested buyer.

During her lunch break, King Middle School teacher Deb Simmons sat waiting for a haddock sandwich — a regular Friday special that was selling for $2.79.

Simmons frequented the market for lunch and got to know Cunningham well over the years.

“She is the heart of this place,” Simmons said. “The regulars who come in, she knows what they want.”

Cunningham agreed that she had customers’ orders memorized. When she would see a regular customer crossing Park Avenue or parking in front, she would start to make their sandwich before they even walked through the door.

“It’s a real sad day,” Mango said, and leaving five employees without jobs “hurts me more than anything. Sheila is taking this hard.”

Cunningham started working for the original owners when she was 15, making ham and cheese sandwiches in the back room after school. the time Mango bought the market, she was the one training him, he said, since he continued the business with all of Terroni’s original recipes.

While Mango’s employees have no secure job prospects, Cunningham said she has one idea that could keep her busy. She has kept a journal of her experiences on the job, since the day she started, and she is thinking of trying to turn it into a book.

“There’s a lot of stories,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of interesting people. I’ll miss a lot of people. And you know, I never intended to be here this long.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]pressherald.com