ELLSWORTH, Maine — Ruth Foster was a 55-year-old state legislator when she purchased the building at 95 Main St. Her plan: to put her state senator’s office on the second floor and an attorney’s office on the first. But the landlord told her that she needed a store at street level.
Foster had never run a retail business before — “I couldn’t even run the cash register,” she said — but with two daughters and two grandchildren, Foster was well schooled in the needs of families, so she decided to open a children’s clothing store.
That was 35 years ago.
Today, the store simply called Ruth Foster’s is a mainstay in downtown Ellsworth, but not for much longer. The now 90-year-old former city mayor and City Council member says she will close the store by Jan. 1 to pursue volunteer and part-time work for Ellsworth Adult Education.
“It has been fun playing store and being part of the community, which I have done. People come in and they are sad that I am closing, and there are hugs and kisses and so forth,” Foster said. “I have a great interest in people, and people open up to me. I don’t repeat. Whatever is said, it’s between whoever I am talking to and myself.”
Since she announced to friends her plan to close her store, Foster said she has received the finest compliment: People have been coming into her store to buy clothes for grandchildren who have not been born yet because they doubt they will find another store like hers.
But Foster’s influence stretches beyond local commerce. As a state legislator, Foster is known for her landmark effort in 1984 that made mediation mandatory in contested divorce cases. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court honored Foster for her work, and she was named Legislator of the Year in 1988 at the Maine State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Conference.
Foster was an early supporter of the Maine State Cultural Affairs Council, the umbrella agency for the Maine Arts Commission, the Maine State Library, the Maine State Museum, the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the Maine State Archives. She has served as president of the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary and Woodlawn Museum, both in Ellsworth. And she has served on the boards of Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital and the Ellsworth hospital’s foundation.
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Her neighbors on Main Street said they will miss Foster for her wise counsel and boisterous energy.
“She always wants to make money and persevere, but she will also listen to your woes and then cheer you up,” said Barbara Courchesne, owner of The Bud Connection, a floral shop that has been Foster’s next-door neighbor for 13 years. “She loves downtown Ellsworth and has been an anchor here for such a long time.”
Sarah King said she will miss shopping at Foster’s store. She once bought her 3-year-old daughter Freya some lobster-costume pajamas there — a rare find.
“You don’t buy that stuff at a Walmart or anything. It’s unique. It’s local,” said King, a manager at Main Street Medical and Glass, a downtown medicinal marijuana dispensary and gift shop.
Exactly what will replace Foster’s store is not widely known. An area couple plans to buy her building and will announce their plans when they are ready to, Foster said.
Foster, meanwhile, does not plan on slowing down much. Still boisterous and interested in the welfare of others, Foster said she won’t know her schedule at adult ed until she starts volunteering.
“When given a challenge, you have to live up to it. Starting a children’s clothing business 35 years ago, that was a challenge,” Foster said. “Now I am getting ready for what comes next.”