GOULDSBORO, Maine — Enough.
It’s been 42 years since Dave Seward bought a hardware store sight-unseen on a handshake, using money begged and borrowed from family and friends.
On the last day of August, Seward will lock the door and walk away from Anderson Marine and Hardware on Route 1 in Gouldsboro, where year after year of six-day work weeks he’s met the needs of a loyal customer base in search of everything from a metric wrench to seeds that grow those giant pumpkins.
“I’m terrified,” Seward, 65, said Friday, reflecting on the unknowns of what’s ahead. “If I was 20 years younger, I would stay, because I love it. The easiest thing I could do is to stay on. Everything is safe here, and this has been my routine for 42 years. But it’s time. In fact I’ve probably waited too long.”
Seward came to Down East Maine from Virginia in 1968 as a young communications technology operator with the U.S. Navy, stationed at the now-abandoned naval base at Schoodic Point. In 1972, for reasons he still can’t explain, he bought a 24-by-48-foot hardware store he had never seen from Don Anderson, who for many years had operated a similar store in nearby Corea. Then, like now, Seward says, he was “terrified,” as he knew nothing about either hardware or marine supplies.
Fast foward 42 years, Seward and his wife Mary, a retired teacher, have four kids and eight grandkids, scattered between northern Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan. His 60-hour work weeks have afforded little time for family “as I try to cram my other life into the very short time when I’m not here at the store.” Once he walks away, Seward plans to begin exploring Maine, hoping to camp for a few weeks at Clayton Lake. Eventually, he says, he would love to ride a train through the Canadian Rockies.
“In 40 some years, Mary and I have never really had a vacation, or even a honeymoon,” he says. “When we did go away, it was a matter of running there and then running back because of the store. No more.”
Seward put the store, the acre surrounding it and his 8,000-item inventory on the market last fall. While there have been a few “tire-kickers,” he says, there have been no serious offers.
“Most people are not aware of the time involved and the commitment required to be the sole proprietor of a store like this,” Seward says. “I’ve interviewed maybe nine different parties, but once they had a reality check on what’s involved, they were scared off. They pretty much all said the same thing: I don’t want to work that hard.
“The customer base is here, and the store has always been profitable, but it seems the next generation doesn’t want to take on that level of commitment. They don’t want to work weekends, and they’d rather live on a paycheck.”
Seward has resigned himself to the apparent reality that the store won’t be sold. He envisions a “giant yard sale” sometime after his Clayton Lake camping trip to liquidate his inventory, hoping to get more than pennies on the dollar.
What he’ll miss most when the curtain drops, Seward says, are the multi-generational relationships he has established along the way.
“I’ve been not only meeting the hardware needs for these folks’ projects, but to some extent meeting their emotional needs, too,” he says. “I’m not a trained counselor, but people know that I’m going to listen to them, to their problems and concerns. Over the years I got to know the grandfathers, their sons and now their grandsons. It’s been a real gift to me.”
His customers will miss him, too.
“Dave is an institution,” says Mike Shapiro, whose Gouldsboro home is two miles from the store. “And he oversees another institution, his store, where never has so much been stuffed in so little space. If he did not exist, Norman Rockwell would have invented him.”
Shapiro said he’ll especially miss Seward’s wit and wisdom.
“Dave is special to me for our many conversations about life, politics and, most importantly, how we would do things so much better,” he said. “But mostly he is special because of who he is. I will miss his style and his charm. I cannot claim to know him well, but I have known him, and for me that has made a difference.”
Bob Jones of New England Marine & Industrial in Stonington, which is one of Seward’s suppliers, said Friday he’ll will miss the place, too.
“We’ve become close friends over the years,” Jones said of Seward. “In my travels between Stonington and Eastport, I’ve seen so many of these small places go under. It’s too bad, really.”