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Family, friends plant flowers for Kono

Dozens of Al Kono mourners gathered at P.J.’s Market Wednesday to plant petunias at his former store in what one longtime customer described as a fitting tribute to the popular shopkeeper.

“You gotta have petunias at Al’s store,” said John Quatermass, a Manchester resident who readily admits he was one of Kono’s regulars known as the “Porch Potatoes,” who still spend much of each morning drinking coffee and chatting at the small convenience store on Mile Hill Drive.

Quatermass, who was helping unload flats of plants from his trailer, said the idea was originally suggested by Kono’s widow Jennifer, who announced after the sentencing of her husband’s killer, Wayne Brent Hower, that everyone was invited to plant the fresh petunias she bought.

“I think it was a perfect idea — it gives people something concrete to do, a way to provide them some relief,” Quatermass said, explaining that the small garden in the parking lot that he and several others had built to honor Kono also helped people heal.

But other than the garden and a few other small touches like a plaque remembering Kono, Quatermass said most of the regulars don’t want anything else at the store to change.

“We want to hold onto as much as we can,” he said, explaining that although there was no spoken promise to do so, he and much of the other Porch Potatoes make a point of continuing to visit the store.

“It’s still a great place, although it is a bit quieter now,” he said. He described Kono’s absence as palpable, and that him being gone was like your right arm being missing. “He was the linchpin.”

Quatermass said the porch did not exist when Kono bought the store in 1990, and he went on to not only build the comfortable area for his regulars to sit, but provide the personality that kept them coming back.

That personality was friendly and helpful, he said, but also opinionated and not afraid of telling people the truth.

“We always said that if you wanted sympathy, you weren’t going to get it here,” he said, explaining that Kono gave the Potatoes plenty of ribbing, too, installing a “No Loitering” sign on the porch and joking that they were “a bunch of loafers” that he only earned 25 cents a day on. “But nobody took it personally. It was like a little pocket of small-town community.”

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