NEW SWEDEN, Maine — Northstar Variety in New Sweden is one of only two convenience stores you’ll see in the 40 miles of Route 161 between Fort Kent and Caribou.
The Andersons have created their own niche in the town of fewer than 600 people that has become their home, even as they have seen other business owners struggle for economic survival and close up shop over the past 25 years.
In fact, Northstar Variety has become a vital hub for community news and conversations, especially because at least six similar stores in New Sweden and surrounding towns have closed amid declining populations and rising operating costs.
“We’ve lost a lot of competitors over the years. Now there’s just us and St. Peter’s [Country Store in Sinclair],” said Sarah Anderson, who co-owns and operates Northstar with her husband Dave Anderson. “We’re one of the last Mom and Pop stores in a big business world.”
What began as a basic convenience store with beverages, food and a gas station has become an agency liquor store and the region’s only gift shop and go-to place for hunting and camping gear.
The couple had been working at the locally famous Yusef’s Restaurant in Caribou for six years when the business closed in 1993. In search of a new profession, the Andersons took over the Lakeshore Variety store in Madawaska Lake.
When their lease was up three years later, the couple decided to move to New Sweden and purchase Northstar Variety.
That first year was filled with a mixture of happy and sad times. Dave’s father, Andrew Anderson, died a week before Northstar opened under the new ownership in July 1998. Sarah and Dave got married one year later.
“It was a rough opening,” Dave Anderson said, while remembering his father, a descendant of New Sweden’s original settlers. “He never got to see [the store].”
Since then, the Andersons have dedicated most of their lives toward expanding the store’s products and services in response to changing times.
As customers step to the left of Northstar’s main entrance once inside, they’ll see rows of Maine T-shirts, fishing rods and tackle and anything outdoor enthusiasts could need for a trip into the woods.
“People come from Fort Kent just to get our tackle because they don’t like what’s at Walmart,” Dave Anderson said.
Flyers and brochures for local activities are posted throughout the front of the store. Customers stop in daily or weekly for their favorite snacks and drinks. The Andersons have enjoyed being at the heart of local friendships.
“I’d say one-third of the people in New Sweden are regulars,” Sarah Anderson said. “We know them by name and what they usually stop in for.”
Retirement for the couple may not be anytime soon. The Andersons pride themselves on keeping Northstar open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Even on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, they open the store at least half a day to meet customers’ needs.
Although they have not been on vacation in more than two decades, the Andersons would not want things any other way.
“We’re looking forward to however many years we have with the community,” Sarah Anderson said.