CONCORD, N.H. — No one truly prepares for death, Liz Duncan says.
Standing in the deserted kitchen of Quality Cash Market, where her family has served generations of East Concord residents and prepared countless Christmas roasts, Duncan struggled to come to grips with some endings in her life.
For instance, she’s not ready to witness the slow decline of her father, Tony Heath, who owned Quality Cash for 40 years and served as her family’s unifying force. She’s not ready to see him go into a nursing home, the only way he can get the proper care for his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, which was solidified a few weeks ago. She’s not ready to lose her father, although she said the disease has already turned him into a shell of his former self.
In order to be more prepared for her father’s decline, Duncan said she had to deal with a different ending – the permanent closure of Quality Cash.
The decision caps a rough year. This spring, the market was almost sold at foreclosure auction as it faced back taxes and mounting debt. A family member started a GoFundMe account to ask the community for $50,000 to keep the business afloat. And by summer, the market closed down because Duncan said nearby construction limited her customer base. Despite promises to reopen by early October, the store never returned to business.
Ultimately, Duncan says it was her father’s failing health and not the lingering financial troubles that closed the store for good.
“He didn’t prepare for this,” Duncan said of her father’s disease. “I think he just thought, ‘When I get old I’m going to die, and it’ll be great.’ He didn’t think he’d get sick. …This is a really painful decision for us to make.”
The 6,253-square foot property at 11 Eastman St. in Concord, which includes the store and the three apartments located above it, has been listed for sale as of Nov. 11, according to a KW Commercial representative. It is listed for $795,000.
The listing describes the 40-year family business as a “well known market next to a ball field and city park,” and having an established clientele off Interstate 93’s Exit 16.
“Known for its meat market, groceries, sandwiches, beer, beverages, pizza and morning coffee/pastries. Commercial kitchen, stoves with vent, coolers, freezers and plenty of parking. Property has 2 buildings and 3 apartments for additional cash flow,” the listing reads. “This is a great opportunity for an owner operator seeking a great business with additional income rental income.”
Despite being closed for over three months, Quality Cash still feels like a business. Sale racks are still stocked with potato chips, and spices still line the kitchen shelves. Notes and recipes are taped to the fridges and knives are still holstered next to the meat-cutting station, waiting patiently to be used.
Moe Duncan, Liz’s husband and a meat cutter at Quality Cash, said the family had every intention of reinventing the store, and was busy during the closure painting the floors and deep-cleaning the equipment.
But then Liz Duncan took her father to a doctor’s appointment on Aug. 22. The family had noticed Tony becoming more confused and remembering less for the past five years – recently, he had a hard time recognizing long-time customers, even his daughter – but it wasn’t until then they got a sense of how bad his dementia was.
Over the next few months, the family debated whether they could keep Quality Cash going while Tony was in decline. But as they met with case workers and struggled to find a place that would accept Tony, the Duncans said it became clear staying open and caring for Tony would be a challenge. And three weeks ago, a CAT scan revealed a grim truth: Heath’s brain was consistent with someone who has Alzheimer’s. He’ll be just 70 years old on Thanksgiving.
“He’s physically fit to do what he wants, but the mental state is not there,” Moe Duncan said. “There’s moments of clarity that are amazing to watch.”
To prepare for the high costs related to his care, Liz Duncan said they will probably have to sell everything Heath owns, including his car, his home, the market and the apartments above it.
Several of Quality Cash’s customers have been understanding about why they’re selling, Duncan said. “They say, ‘Oh, I’m going through that with my mom, I just put her in a home, I get it,’ ” she said.
Some have not been so understanding.
“We’ve heard the rumors, ‘Oh, they’re just greedy,’ ” Duncan said, an edge creeping into her voice. “And you know what? Yeah, I guess I am, if you’re going to put it like that, because I want as much money as possible right now to take care of him. Because he’s physically well – he could have Alzheimer’s well into advanced age.”
It’s the least they can do for Heath, Moe Duncan said. “He’s taken care of his family and friends for so long,” he said. “We’re at the point where we want to make sure he does what he wants to with his life.”
The whole situation, Liz Duncan said, is “devastating.”
“I’m still processing it and trying to make sure everything’s taken care of,” she said.
There’s regret, too.
“I didn’t get to learn from him,” Duncan said of running the family business. “You gotta know something if you’ve had a family business for 40-something years. You gotta. But I never got to learn.”
But life still has to go on: Duncan said she’s since taken a part-time job doing auditing for the state, and Moe Duncan has taken a job cutting meat for BJ’s Wholesale in Hooksett. Most of their employees have found other jobs, Duncan said.
The family still has money troubles tied up in the business.
The property still has two tax liens on it from 2015 and 2016. Over $35,000 worth of taxes have not been paid, according to the Concord’s tax collection office.
Liz Duncan said the taxes will be paid off when the business is sold. As for the donations that helped prevent foreclosure, she said she has a list of everyone’s names, and intends to pay each of them back.
Despite it all, the Duncans are grateful for the time they’ve had with the Quality Cash community. For Moe Duncan, who has cut meat at the store for the last six years, the holidays will always hold a special place.
“It got to the point where I knew people’s Christmas orders, and if I hadn’t heard from them, I’d be calling to make sure they’re okay,” he said.
For Liz Duncan, the memories of giving out full-sized candy bars and free coffee on Halloween stand out. “It was great watching parents be grateful for something to drink,” she said.
While the Duncans are selling the building where Quality Cash is located as a whole, Liz Duncan hopes someone recognizes the value of the business and takes it over.
“Whoever does open this place back up needs to know it has the best little community. There’s no other store like this,” she said, a tear traveling down her cheek. “I think the store, the community will be fine. I just really hope that whoever buys it, that they love this place as much as we did.”
Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.concordmonitor.com