With hugs, happy shoppers and a huge Christmas wreath, the completely remodeled Up-Island Cronig’s officially reopened to the public Monday — 13 months and 13 days after its abrupt closure on Friday, March 13 of last year.

“There’s a reason we needed to open on April 26,” said David (Cricket) Willoughby, who works for Cronig’s and managed the Up-Island store’s reconstruction process. “Steve [Bernier] said whatever you need to do to get it open…it’s lucky number 13.”

After pressures from the Covid-19 pandemic forced the only up-Island grocery store to close last year, store owner Steve Bernier and his staff decided to do more than flip the script on the unlucky number — they flipped around shelves, lights, refrigerators and more to create a brighter, roomier shopping experience.

Renovation includes wider aisles and brighter lighting. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Willoughby completely gutted the store’s entire interior, scraping up the old tile floor over the course of months, replacing every aisle and refrigeration system, realigning checkout counters and restocking shelves. The entire store’s plumbing was also replaced, with total renovation costs estimated between $1.2 and $1.4 million, according to Mr. Bernier.

Covid necessitated some changes; others were decades in the making. The salad bar is gone, but the deli has been slightly expanded. There’s the same number of aisles, but more space between them. Plastic checkout counter separators hang from the ceiling, while the counters themselves now align with the aisles, allowing for a full view from the front to the back of the store.

The layout is relatively familiar. It’s everything else that looks different — including the brightly-lit produce and expanded meat refrigerators.

“Everything is new. The refrigerators are new. The shelves are new. Everything you see is new,” said store manager Haroldo Nascimiento. “But it feels like coming home.”

Ms. Milkova and Mr. Nascimiento flank reconstruction manager, David (Cricket) Willoughby. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Nascimiento has been the up-Island store manager for the past five years. He recalled March 13, 2020, when Mr. Bernier called and told him to shut the doors so the staff and stock could be reassigned to the flagship Vineyard Haven store to deal with unprecedented shopper demand.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Mr. Nascimiento said. “The first day when we closed, we were like, okay, we’ll close for a couple of weeks. Then we were closed for a month. Then we thought, let’s do the remodel…and it’s been a ton of work.”

That’s where Mr. Willoughby, known to Islanders as Cricket, came in. A long time Cronig’s employee who has done everything from deli work to shelf stocking, Mr. Willoughby became the maintenance chief and worked with Mr. Bernier to re-imagine the up-Island store building, which pre-pandemic still had the look, feel and bones of its 1996 origins.

“We had a blank slate,” Mr. Willoughby said. “[Steve] looked at me and said, we’re never going to get an opportunity like this again...we have to make this a fresh store. And that’s when I took everything out of here.”

Morgan Hodgson and Chris Murphy are happy to be back shopping up-Island. — Jeanna Shepard

The process began with little tweaks last April and then stalled in the summer, as staffing demands pulled everyone — including Mr. Willoughby — to the Vineyard Haven store. But Mr. Willoughby was back by fall, tearing up the tile and concrete floors, removing shelves, replacing and realigning the entire inside. Once the interior had been finished, it then took about two months to complete the restocking, Mr. Nascimiento said.

“It’s been a fun project, and a lot of thought has gone into it, especially about how to maximize space,” Mr. Willoughby added. “Just to see it open and functioning again is a great accomplishment.”

At the store Monday, shoppers quietly filed in through the new entrance, greeted by bright lights and a sign inside reminding them to socially distance and wear masks. But that didn’t stop some customers from embracing in hugs, reunited at their old up-Island shopping grounds once more. Cara Anticoli, a West Tisbury resident, said she was thrilled to shop closer to home.

“I can do just about everything in North Tisbury, and during the pandemic, grocery shopping is about the only thing I do,” Ms. Anticoli said. “I’m happy for Steve. I’m happy for the Island.”

And just as shoppers were happy to be back, store employees were equally happy to see their former customers.

“I’m so glad, I saw a lot of customers this morning,” Mr. Nascimiento said. “It’s good to see them with shopping carts.”