MONROE, Maine — At a little after 11 a.m. one day last week, the women working at the otherwise quiet Monroe General Store were busy tossing pizza dough, getting sandwich fixings ready and otherwise preparing for the coming lunchtime rush.
And just in time, too. As noon crept closer, the store suddenly filled with hungry folks who sat at the wooden tables in the front and mulled over their orders while chatting with each other. They were carpenters, graduate students, farmers and at least one pie-maker, but they had one thing in common: they were already regulars at the old general store that had reopened its doors under new management just two weeks before.
The store — the only one in the rural village — had been closed for a long time, and locals said its reopening in Monroe, population 890, is a cause for celebration, and maybe for a piece of pecan pie.
“I think it’s the best thing to happen to Monroe for decades,” Philip Dalto said, adding that when it closed in 2008 it was very hard for the small community. “I thought it ripped the town’s heart out. Without a meeting place, there’s a lot of people in town you just didn’t see.”
Joan Hayward, who is managing the store that her sister Valerie Tognacci-Lindholm and brother-in-law Robert Lindholm recently bought, said that the trio aims to have it be a community meeting place as well as the kind of old-fashioned place where people stop by every day to pick up something fresh. They also want it to stock locally sourced dairy products, meat, produce and gifts, a really good selection of craft beer and wines and to have the in-store Wicked Rooster Cafe serve food that is prepared with care, creativity and some secret ingredients.
Hayward said that she and her staff have been tweaking the pizza recipe since they opened. They’re now making it with dough from the Portland Pie Co. and a six-cheese blend that includes fontina, parmesan, pecorino-romano, mozzarella, cheddar and one that she prefers not to name. Specialty flavors include the pastrami and swiss cheese pizza. But although the pies are made with care, they’re still sold by the slice to the workmen and others whom she hopes will make up her core clientele.
“I’ve been in Monroe for a year, and I love it. It’s a lovely town. It’s full of farmers, artists and musicians,” Hayward, who said she’s been working 110-hour weeks while getting the store rolling, said. “Our goal is to support the community, since the community will support us. Hopefully it will be a mutually symbiotic relationship.”
Before Hayward moved to Waldo County, she lived in New Hampshire, where ran a specialty wine and beer shop. She brings entrepreneurial experience with her to Maine, as well as a big commitment to her neighbors. In the first week, ice cream sales made up half the store’s business, and a freezer is completely stocked with the white ice cream containers from Monroe’s own Stone Fox Farm Creamery.
Kathy Chamberlain, the owner of the ice cream company, said Thursday that she was thrilled that the store has reopened with such a bang.
“We might make a special flavor for the Monroe General Store, just because it’s our town,” she said. “We were patient. We waited a long time to get our store back. It goes back to community — it’s a place to meet over a cup of coffee, and they smile when you come in.”