We all know how hard it’s been to keep a small business going this past year. Imagine what it must be like to START a business during the pandemic.

Irfan and Zahida Shehzad took that challenge on last fall when they became the new owners of the Elkton Food Market on Highway 38 in Elkton. Irfan, who has experience managing a 7-11 store and an Arco gas station, said he put thousands of miles on his car when he was looking for a business to buy before choosing to put down roots in Elkton.

“At first I thought it might be too small, because we were used to living in a bigger city. It was a big jump to bring my kids here,” Irfan Shehzad said. “But the main thing for me is the people, and the people have been very nice to us.”

Locals and tourists alike depend on the market for everything from propane to piping hot Jo-Jo’s. In a rural area where driving to the nearest full-service grocery store is considered a road trip, local convenience stores can be a lifeline. Did you run out of milk? They’ve got you covered with a full line of dairy products. Are your kids going stir crazy on a long road trip? The market has snacks and a surprising number of games that might give you a few miles of peace and quiet.

The Shehzads plan to keep all the familiar products on the shelf, while adding new options like a slushie machine and a grab-n-go cooler with sandwiches and salads. Irfan — who loves to garden — said he’s committed to keeping fresh produce in stock. They’ve also added a roller grill and expanded the hot food options to include taquitos and hot dogs. The market is set up to accept EBT payments again, after a short break during the management transition.

If there’s something you’d like to see sold at the market, the new owners want to hear about it. You’ll often find Zahida at the register, while Irfan is busy installing new garden beds and updating the 100-year old building. “My mission is for all my community to be happy with my business,” Irfan said. “I need to know what people want, and what I can do for them. I will support the community, so the community will also support me.”

Need another reason to visit Elkton? The Elkton FFA plant sale is April 30 through May 2 at the high school. Visit the Elkton Charter School Facebook page to sign up for a time slot before the sale.

The Elkton Community Education Center Nursery is just up the road at 15850 Highway 38 and open Tuesday – Saturday from 10am to 4pm. ECEC is planning a large plant sale Mother’s Day weekend with extended hours (9am to 4pm Friday-Sunday). You can also shop online at ececstore.square.site or call the dedicated nursery line at 541-584-2778 for more information.

Our local wineries, restaurants and stores are getting ready for a steady increase in visitors, and we hope to have more events in Elkton in the months ahead, starting with our annual Butterfly Run on June 19. Many of those plans are still under development; watch for updates at elktonbutterflies.com/events-calendar.

See you in Elkton!

Marjory Hamann is the executive director of the Elkton Community Education Center.

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