After being closed for more than a year, Portland landmark Joe’s Super Variety reopened Thursday at the same Congress Street location it has occupied for more than 70 years.

But the address is the only thing old about Joe’s – the low-slung brick store with tiny windows and low ceilings has been replaced with a sharply lit, modern space.

Even owner David Discatio took a while to get used to the new ambiance.

“I can’t handle the brightness,” he joked.

The fresh atmosphere is the first thing returning regulars comment on, and Discatio is happy with the changes.

“It was so dingy and dark,” he said. “This is so much better.”

The old store, originally Joe’s Smoke Shop, was opened in 1945 by Joe Discatio and has been in the family ever since. David Discatio, 52, and his brother Michael are the third generation to run the business. They dropped the “smoke shop” out of the name in 2014 in favor of Joe’s Super Variety.

In December 2015, the brothers closed the store and the building was demolished to make way for an eight-story apartment building with more than 130 units called The Hiawatha, which is now leasing units for June.

Discatio said he enjoyed the time off and took a couple trips to the Dominican Republic and North Carolina, but he has been itching to reopen.

So were his regulars.

Over the past year, long-time customers would pass him on the street and make a point to ask when the store would be up and running, Discatio said.

“We wanted to get back sooner than we did – we didn’t want to be closed for 16 months,” he said. “People were really anxious for us to open.”

The new look isn’t the only thing that’s changed. The walk-in cigar humidifier is gone, to make space for a wider selection of drinks and a “beer cave” with an expanded offering of craft beers.

Giving up the humidifier was a tough decision but, in the end, they needed the space, Discatio said. Instead, they saved the cedar lining from the humidifier to install temperature-controlled glass cigar cases in one corner of the new store.

There are other subtle changes, such as fewer tobacco products and more healthy snack choices, a fountain drink machine and a revamped kitchen.

Nicole Barna looks over the menu at Joe’s Super Variety, formerly Joe’s Smoke Shop. The Congress Street store reopened Thursday. One feature that didn’t make the cut this time around: the store’s walk-in cigar humidifier. Staff photo by Derek Davis

The store reopened Thursday, with limited hours. It will be closed over the weekend and open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday while they work out some kinks and train workers,. By Tuesday, it will be open normal hours, 6 a.m to 11 p.m., Discatio said.

On Friday night, a few shoppers popped in to pick up drinks and snacks and take a look around the place. One man complimented Discatio on the new store and asked when he’d be getting in his favorite kind of beer.

“It’s been a lot of new faces, and a lot of familiar faces – people I haven’t seen in a year,” Discatio said.

He expects to get a lot of new customers when people start moving into apartments upstairs. The store has a separate entrance in the lobby of the apartment building that can only be accessed by residents with a key card.

“On a bad winter day, they don’t even have to leave the building to get in,” Discatio said.

It has taken a little while for word to get out that Joe’s is again open, but Discatio expects that people will soon get the word.

Bill Dawson was walking up Congress Street on Friday on his way back home in the West End when he chanced upon the reopened store. Dawson, who has been going to Joe’s for decades, was overjoyed to see the new digs, especially its beer selection. After more than a year, he’s glad to have a locally owned store back in his neighborhood.

“Do you really want to go to 7-Eleven or CVS? It’s just not the same,” he said. “The people in there were bright and shiny, helpful, just the way they’ve always been.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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