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From Pickle Barrels to “Spill Man”

Among the treasures of the Boothbay Peninsula are its three general stores, which provide warmth, sustenance, and a gathering place for the communities they have served for more than a century.

These stores in Southport and in Trivet and East Boothbay have had better and worse times and two have been rebuilt after they were set on fire. Their presence is a testament to the role they still play in their communities and the lure of old and new that attracts customers through their doors.

Built in 1882, E.E. Pinkham & Son is Southport’s current general store, and it burned down in 1895 taking with it the post office and most of the city’s records, according to information provided by resident Donald Duncan. Duncan said the store was so vital to the island community that it was rebuilt in less than a month.

Over the years, merchandise has included “sugar and coffee, 100-pound bags of beans, corn and grains, barrels of molasses, linseed oil, and turpentine, as well as batteries for light bulbs, recordings for Victrolas, and many kinds of common clothing,” Duncan said.

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Packed by capacity, directions to the location of any item in the store were given as the number of steps north, south, east, or west starting at the pickle barrel.

“In winter, when fishing and summer cottage work were lax,” Duncan wrote, “many men would gather around the great coal stove in the middle of the store to read the Boston Globe, exchange threads and wait for the mail.” Comments to the Jefferson Society in 2013.

From Everett to his son Charles, and for nearly 100 years, the store was owned and operated by members of the Pinkham family until 1972. Other owners followed, and in 2019, it was acquired by Barbara and Todd Leland.

“We wanted to be everything a general store should be,” Barbara Leland explained. “We’ve worked hard to preserve everything to make it a place where people can gather.”

These days, the general store has swapped out a pickle barrel for a wine room with more than 300 labels and a gift barn that opened in 2012 and showcases items made in Maine.

This also included opening a back dining area and adding specialty coffees to the store’s menu.

An invisible addition to the store is the SGS Gives program, which donates a portion of its proceeds to island organizations.

Store manager Nancy Long said the 25-year-old “Thursday Burger” tradition continues thanks to Mike Bain who runs the grill. Throughout the summer, the barn run by Emma Jay has offered programs featuring local artists and their works.

As Barbara Leland explained, “The shop is the only place on the island where all the ‘worlds’ intersect, year-round and summer residents and those who work nearby. It’s unique in Southport.”

From Seavey’s to Farmer’s to Brightside

Owner Liz Evans said the East Boothbay general store was built by Frank Seavey of Kennebunkport and opened circa 1893 “with the same footprint and overall appearance as today.” It added that Seavey sold dry bulk goods, molasses, coffee, beans, flour, cheese, and any fruit or vegetable in season.

It closed in 1930 and reopened in 1946 when it moved through owners and names including Callnan’s Market, Millers Market and Brightside Market. In 1990, Don Dean Jackson bought the property, named it East Boothbay General Store, and operated it for six years, according to Evans.

The store continued to be a meeting place for people to pass the time. “Men were stopping by on their way home from work at the shipyard to buy a pack of cigarettes for 50 cents and hear the news of the day. (It was) also a favorite of young people who still talked about coming over to buy candy and ice cream,” Evans added.

She bought the store in 2006 after being closed for nearly two years. She moved upstairs with daughters Sabine, 13, and Astrid, 10.

A private chef on yachts, Evans bought the shop believing it would serve as a commercial kitchen for her catering business.

She cleaned it up and applied a unique touch to the business, bringing the store to life with a menu offering specialty sandwiches, gourmet pizzas, cookie powder, salads, espresso, bagels, breakfast sandwiches and wraps. An open arch and gable were enclosed and a separate sitting space was created. Wine and specialty items have been added to store shelves.

Occasionally, Evans encounters an unseen former inhabitant of the property who makes his presence known around the cooler compartment. “Over the years, people feel their presence and turn around, but no one is there,” she explained. A cousin asked a staff member if they had come across anything and he referred to the presence as someone who lived there around 1969. He was called “the spill man”. Evans said. “Living in this building is like living in a museum.”

“Lovely old building”

G. Hodgdon and Son (now Trevett Country Store) was built around 1860 and is the oldest of the three remaining general stores on the peninsula, according to information provided by former owner Stan Hodgdon and his daughter Jennifer Goodet. It is also the store that has been with the original family the longest.

Accounts from the mid-19th century show the array of goods, including shoes, pants, teapots, and window frames, at prices decidedly from another time: nine pounds of rice for $1.08; Boat drive, $15.

Early on, the building was destroyed by fire but a new store appeared, and in 1882, a post office was added. Stephen C. Hodgdon, the store owner, was appointed postmaster.

“Originally, things were brought by boat,” said Stan Hodgdon. “There’s a cargo wheel in the attic that has been rotated to move goods for storage.” Remember that there is dried fish hanging in the store and that pieces will be cut for customers.

The family ran the store and post office for more than a century, providing shoes, groceries, and fishing gear. In 1959, the quayside was leased to Mill Cove Lobster. After his father Richard Hodgdon retired, Stan became the fourth generation of Hodgdon to own the store. He was also the bridge tender and the postmaster who was sometimes asked to leave the building to manually open the bridge.

In 1979, as business competition eroded, Hodgdon closed the store, continuing as postmaster until his retirement. Kim and Jeff Lewis purchased the property with partner Austin Barter in 1998 to rename the store Trevett Country Store.

“It’s a beautiful old building,” said Jeff Lewis. “I wonder how many generations sped through those floors.”

A grill was added so people could get a burger when they came to shop, “but we never thought it would go off,” Kim said. The food became the draw and they added specials. Today, customers line up for fried seafood, crab rolls and crab meat. “It’s fresh that day,” Lewis explained, thanks to his work at the nearby Mill Cove Lobster.

Unlike their modern counterparts, these buildings define their business. But it takes more than just nostalgia to bring clients into an old building, so each offers something unique.

In Southport, Barbara Leland offers a barn, talks from Maine artists, and plenty of food and staples for the island community.

Liz Evans’ culinary skills earned her a good reputation for her East Boothbay General Store and attracted a crowd looking for her food.

And Trevett Country Store keeps customers accessible for seafood.

In separate interviews with Boothbay Register, the three store owners expressed the same appreciation for their business history.

“We had Stan and his daddy and we were looking after him,” Jeff Lewis said. “I never thought I’d be the owner; I grew up as a little kid bringing ice cream here.”

Barbara Leland also spoke about honoring the store’s history. “You don’t own it,” she explained. “You are the current guardian of that.”

Liz Evans said her shop became the work of her life. “The store defined me in my life. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”