GOULDSBORO, Maine — For 41 years and counting, Dave Seward has been running a small — very small — hardware and marine supplies business on busy Route 1 in Gouldsboro.
Now pushing 65 years old, Seward says it’s time to retire, and he’s eager to find someone willing to buy his 24-by-48-foot Anderson Marine & Hardware store and its inventory of thousands of items ranging from bait bags and bow saws to Bondo body filler and Japanese beetle traps. Need eggs? He’s got those, too, right next to a cash register that belongs in a museum.
“It’s very important to me to keep small businesses like this one in the community,” he said Saturday morning between a trickle of early morning customers in search of everything from an O ring for a pump priced at $2.09 to a toilet tank lever, the sale of the day at $5.25.
“People come in and apologize for spending 10 cents for a screw,” he said. “But the way I see it, if I have 10 of those sales, it’s a buck. The big box stores have taken away some things I used to sell a lot of, like deep well pumps, because they buy them by the truckload and can sell them for less that I can buy them for. The box stores are good for the big items, but they always mark up the small things to make up for it, like a box of screws for $8 that costs $2.39 in my place.”
Seward’s store is open every day but Sunday, and he and his wife, Mary, a retired teacher, live within walking distance in a home fronting Frenchman Bay. It’s a major step up from the trailer next to the store where he lived after he bought the business in 1972 from Don Anderson, who for many years had a store in nearby Corea.
“I went and knocked on Don’s door and within an hour we shook hands and had a deal,” Seward recalls. “I had never even been in the store. I went home and called every relative I had; I didn’t have any money for a down payment. And I knew nothing about hardware, plumbing or electrical supplies or fishing. Don agreed to work with me for three months, but still, almost every night I would go home and feel like bawling. Some of the older fishermen realized how stupid I was and made me feel stupid. It was a learning experience, but as they say you make the best steel with the hottest fire. It was probably 15 years before I felt comfortable.”
A native of Virginia, Seward came to Down East Maine in 1968 as a young communications technology operator with the U.S. Navy, stationed at the now-abandoned navy base at Schoodic Point. When he first received his orders, his sergeant told him that Winter Harbor was in Norway. During his four-year stint, he said, he fell in love with the area and decided to stay. Despite the demands of the store, he’s delighted that he did.
“This is like a second marriage,” he said. “You’re here more than with your wife, but you just can’t delegate what needs to be done. I had one potential buyer say he would need to hire three people. To me, the best thing that has come out of this is all the history I’ve experienced. Teenagers come in here, and I’ve known and sold stuff to their fathers and grandfathers. That’s been the biggest bonus of this whole thing.”
Seward was taken by surprise when the morning mail recently included a note from former Maine governor Angus King, Jr., who had seen a YouTube video about the store and Seward’s retirement hopes.
“Small businesses like yours endure in the Maine economy often because of the great attitude and personalities of proprietors like yourself,” King wrote. “Finding a place in the community and having a job that allows you to interact with and help your neighbors on a day-to-day basis is not something that everyone is lucky enough to find, as you have.”
In the few months that his business and the acre that surrounds it have been for sale, Seward has spoken with a few “tire-kickers.”
“I really believe these types of places are on the way out,” he says. “The mentality today is not geared to a steady routine of work. To keep a small business afloat, you have to keep your overhead down and tend to business. If you’re sick, you come in. If you are too sick to come in, you come in anyway. It’s a question of mind over matter.”
Tacked on the wall behind the store’s front counter is a small card that reads: “If you follow your heart, your feet will find a road.”
“The easiest thing I could do is stay here,” Seward said. “But enough is enough. I instinctively know that I’m running out of healthy time. I know I’m supposed to have a Plan B for when I do sell the store, but I don’t. I don’t know what it’s going to be like to be finished.”
What he does know is that his four grown children — two boys and two girls — have provided him and Mary with seven grandchildren, and another en route. Spending more time with them and less time selling wing nuts will, he said, be an element of his elusive Plan B.