DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Multiple businesses in Dover-Foxcroft have closed or announced changes in ownership in the past month.
Last week downtown restaurant Charlie’s announced it was closing. On the same day, the owners of convenience store Fox Brook Variety, located less than a mile away, announced they had sold the business after 30 years in the family and will close at the end of June.
Across Maine and nationally, a number of businesses have shuttered following the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some struggled to make profit with soaring prices on goods, and others couldn’t maintain staffing. Dover-Foxcroft’s mom-and-pop businesses are not immune to these struggles, though some locals say retirement and decades of operation are what led them to sell their businesses. Residents now have fewer dining options in a town where they’re already scarce compared to more urban areas, but in some cases, new businesses are replacing mainstays in the community.
“We see many success stories of companies that have found new ways of operating their businesses, and that’s a really good thing,” said Matt Lewis, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine. “On the other side is the misconception that we’re out of COVID ramifications, and everyone is happy and back on track. I think that clearly is not the case.”
Lewis has seen businesses statewide, both in small rural communities and urban centers such as Portland, close their doors — and the trend is likely to continue, he said.
Business owners have been forced to find creative solutions to stay open. Sometimes that means working modified hours based on the availability of limited staff, and in some cases restaurants do survive, Lewis said. It is up to locals and visitors to help keep small businesses afloat, he said.
The owner of Charlie’s, Allyson Roberts, said Monday that she closed the business because she couldn’t find workers and because of rising food costs and building expenses, including an electricity bill that was unreasonably high. She said people she hired wouldn’t show up for work and instead tried to receive unemployment benefits for the job they never worked.
The restaurant, which served breakfast, lunch and dinner, went from 17 employees two years ago to just three, including herself, Roberts said. The decision to close wasn’t easy, but she had been working open to close daily, she said. A cook and another employee who functioned as both a cook and waitress helped keep the restaurant operating.
Fox Brook Variety — which is also a gas station and serves homemade soups, sandwiches and pizza — has been sold to a new owner that plans to tear down the business and rebuild it, owners and siblings Steve Boyd and Karen Jankunas said on Facebook. They did not say who would take it over or elaborate on the new owner’s plans.
The business has been in the family since 1992, when Boyd and Jankunas’ parents purchased it. They took over when their parents retired.
“Truthfully, I am 52 years old and I’m scared that when I reach retirement, I’ll be stuck with it,” Boyd said. “It was just time to move on and do something different.”
The closure was not pandemic related or due to staffing troubles, he said. The convenience store has between 10 and 12 staff members, including the owners. Over the years, former employees have returned to work for several weeks at a time when the business needed a hand, Boyd said.
Townspeople began speculating about the closing of Mission Impizzable in April. The pizzeria — which began as Athens Pizza in 2014 on the same street where it currently stands, East Main Street — changed its name and location in 2018.
Ownership did not share an announcement on social media, but the business is listed on Facebook as temporarily closed. A post from mid-March indicates that the pizzeria was hiring cooks and delivery drivers. A “For Rent” sign hung in the window on Monday afternoon.
Sometimes owners say the effects of the pandemic had nothing to do with business closures and sales, but usually it plays some role, Lewis said. “It’s been a tough 18 months, [and] some people have gotten tired of the ordeal,” he said.
He noted the resiliency of Maine businesses and said that despite closures, a positive factor is that new businesses are usually quick to fill vacant spaces.
Will’s Shop ‘n Save, which in late March announced it would change ownership, was open for the last time Saturday. Owners Will and Melissa Wedge, who are retiring, have operated the supermarket since 2011, when Dana Edwards sold them the store.
Now the Edwards family is taking over again, this time under Dana Edwards’ sons, Jeremy and Jason Edwards. Edwards Brothers Supermarkets has locations in Trenton and Unity.
Because of the families’ connections over the years, it made sense for Will Wedge to contact the Edwards family about buying the store back, Jeremy Edwards said. Dana Edwards hired Will Wedge as a store manager trainee in the late 1980s, and Jeremy Edwards has known the Wedges since he was a child. The Wedges’ children weren’t interested in operating the store, he said.
“There aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for small business owners like us to go buy a Walmart,” he said. “Usually it’s family businesses that buy each other out.”
The new supermarket opened Tuesday. It will operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer. In early November or so, the store will close at 8 p.m.
The new supermarket will offer the same products as Will’s Shop ‘n Save, plus items such as whoopie pies made fresh in-house, a coffee bar and hot foods, Jeremy Edwards said. The store will also retain the 30-plus employees, he said. Six or seven of them have been around since Dana Edwards owned the location.