People work to stock the newly rebuilt Swan Lake Grocery for its soft reopening, planned for Wednesday, March 3. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

SWANVILLE, Maine — Nearly five months ago, Swan Lake Grocery was a charred, water-damaged husk after a driver veered off the road and hit the building, killing himself and starting a fire.

What a difference a few months can make.

This week, the largely rebuilt store was a buzzing hive of activity as dozens worked to stock shelves with condiments, Easter candy and more as they prepare for the soft opening on March 3.

“We are excited, because we miss the customers,” Flordeluna Stevens, a cashier who has worked at the store since 2018, said Tuesday.

Employees have heard that the feeling is mutual. Shae Garton, who works as a cashier and in customer service, said staff members can’t go out in public without people stopping them to ask how renovations are going.

“It’s really a staple of the community,” she said. “People are excited for sure.”

That excitement doesn’t completely mitigate the shock and sadness of the Oct. 6 crash that killed driver Andrew McHugh, 23, of South Bethlehem, New York.

“It was complete devastation,” said Deb Newcomb, who bought the store with her husband more than 40 years ago. “Our hearts still go out to the family.”

The Newcombs asked their parish priest to bless the property following the fire and will have the rebuilt store blessed too.

The store was insured, they said, and because of that they were able to keep paying their 22 full- and part-time employees after the fire. They also are pleased with the speed and quality of the construction. Because of the extent of the fire and water damage, the building was largely destroyed and had to be gutted.

“Everything in the store is brand new,” Rob Newcomb said, adding that the interior should look familiar to customers because there wasn’t time to do a redesign.

Nancy Larrabee, the store manager, said that while sections such as the deli, produce and beer and soda are in the same location, the store will be fresh and new.

“It’s going to be great to open,” she said. “We’re all looking forward to it.”