After spending nearly three decades in corporate retail, John Guerra wanted his next career move to be something that was a little more personal.
About 70 miles north of where Guerra built his career in Portland, in the rural Knox County town of Warren, the owners of Lincoln’s Country Store were thinking about retirement.
The store, known locally as simply Lincoln’s, is a hub for the town of just less than 5,000 people and a critical stopping point for anyone traveling on busy Route 90 in search of gas, refreshments, and yes, pizza.
Guerra had never run his own business, but the prospect of owning the local grocery, deli and gas station seemed to present the perfect challenge while offering him the personal control he sought.
“I wanted to wrap things up with a good role that would just allow me to bring everything I learned previously together,” Guerra said. “This is as local and as connected as you can possibly get to a community. That’s what I loved about it.”
In January, Guerra purchased the store from Mark and Peggy Lincoln, who opened the store in 1996. Since then, Guerra has been “having a blast” running the store and figuring out how it can better serve the community.
With locally owned stores like Lincoln’s dotting Maine’s rural landscape, Guerra said he’s happy to be part of a tradition that has been serving Mainers for generations.
“This is classic Maine,” Guerra said. “If [store] owners are doing it right, he or she is really focused in on what customers are buying and asking for. It’s that intensely local connection that you’re able to make.”
Just a few towns over in Hope, a similar story was playing out for the future of the Hope General Store, one of Maine’s oldest general stores that opened in 1832.
After being put up for sale in 2017, the store was sold to Damon McClure and his wife Simi Delevett of Boston last month. The couple is moving to Maine, with plans to live above the store in an apartment, which McClure said was a dream of his.
McClure and Delevett had been planning to make a career and life change after their daughter went off to college in a couple of years. But last summer, McClure was laid off from his 19-year job and none of the other job prospects he was finding interested him.
A friend shared the listing for the Hope General Stop with McClure, and the store seemed like a perfect fit. The couple had been wanting to get back to a more rural area and wanted to do something “more contained,” McClure said.
“So we came up to Hope, looked at [the store] and fell in love with it,” he said.
The Hope General Store is much smaller than Lincoln’s, but the role the store plays in the community is very much the same. The store is a stopping place for a quick breakfast or lunch, and the go-to place where folks can get the essentials they need without having to leave town.
The entranceway, covered in flyers and business cards, also serves as a community bulletin board, alerting patrons about local events and any stray pets that need to be shepherded back home.
“It’s the hub of the town,” McClure said. “In these small communities, they need this here. It’s the convenience of being able to stop and get something without having to go all the way to town.”
While there might be bigger stores outside town, both McClure and Guerra said the in-town location of their stores is an essential service that will keep customers coming back.
“I know my customers are shopping at Hannaford and Walmart and Shaw’s, but at 5 o’clock at night, they’re coming home from work, they know they can stop in here and pick up what they need for dinner and take care of their family,” Guerra said.
Neither of the new owners has major plans to change their respective stores. McClure said he’s focused on learning store operations and the names of his customers.
“I didn’t want to come here acting like I knew what was best,” McClure said. “It’s a lot of treading the line between making the changes we want to make, but also realizing the store is this way for a reason. It works, and the town sort of dictates how it works.”
While he doesn’t anticipate any big changes, McClure plans to expand the local items the store carries.
Guerra said he also hopes to expand on the local items available at Lincoln’s, especially when it comes to the beer and wine selection. Guerra also has plans to increase the store’s presence on social media.
But patrons of Lincoln’s need not worry, Guerra said, “the whoopie pies are going to stay.”