Anderson's Store employee Tanner Stiff prepares pizza dough on Friday morning. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican & News

STOCKHOLM, Maine — When neighbors realized that Stockholm’s only grocery store might not make it past Christmas, they were determined to not let that happen.

Anderson’s Store, at 327 Main St., has been a landmark for the town since brothers John and Lewis Anderson established the business in 1904. The Anderson family expanded the grocery store over the years to include a bakery and meat shop.

Anderson’s still is a go-to destination for Stockholm and surrounding residents and for summer and winter tourists seeking fresh food and drinks on the road. But in recent months, owners Deb Paiement and Phil Andrews have struggled to get by.

Losing the store would mean residents would have to travel nearly 20 miles to Caribou for groceries. Erica Anderson Gray and Brenda Jepson, who live in neighboring towns, are doing their best to make sure that doesn’t happen, including organizing an Anderson’s Appreciation Day to draw customers to the store.

“We had a great response to [the Appreciation Day], but we need people to frequent that store to keep it going,” Jepson said. “It’s easy to shop in Caribou when we’re there, but we have to remember how convenient it is to have a store here in town.”

Paiement and Andrews purchased the store from the Anderson family in 2018 after moving back to Aroostook County from the Sebago Lake area. Originally from Houlton and Caribou, respectively, the couple fell into the grocery business after failing to find a barn to convert into a restaurant and entertainment venue.

They had high hopes for continuing the local staple, until the pandemic limited the number of customers coming through the doors. Then supply chain shortages and inflation drove food, fuel and electric prices beyond what they could imagine.

“Everything is harder to find and more expensive,” Andrews said. “We try to keep everything we know people need or want, but it’s a challenge.”

With a gas station outside and products such as coffee, soda, chips, cigarettes and alcohol sold inside, Anderson’s Store could easily be mistaken for just another roadside convenience store.

But Stockholm residents, especially senior citizens, frequent the store for common grocery items such as milk, eggs, cheese, pasta, spices, boxed and frozen dinners and fresh vegetables.

The staff of eight, including Andrews and Paiement, keep the place stocked with fresh-butchered meats, homemade pizzas and pastries, the latter coming from former co-owner Suzy Anderson’s recipes.

To cut costs, the couple has scaled back on non-essential grocery items and Paiement, who typically takes care of finances and office duties, works five hours each week to decrease payroll expenses without laying off employees.

A few times this fall the couple has warned customers via their Facebook page that they were out of or close to being out of gas in their tanks.

“We’ve decreased our expenses by 35 percent since September,” Paiement said.

In late November, though, Paiement published a Facebook post saying that she and Andrews were unsure how long the store could keep going.

That’s when Gray and Brenda stepped up.

Gray lives in Woodland, a small town more than 12 miles south of Stockholm, but has fond memories of visiting Anderson’s Store as a child. Jepson lives in nearby Madawaska Lake, a popular summer tourist destination, but is a regular Anderson’s customer.

Gray and Jepson organized Anderson’s Appreciation Day in conjunction with Stockholm’s holiday kickoff events on the first Saturday in December.

People who visited the store that day entered contests to win gift baskets, and staff made extra pastries in anticipation of a larger crowd. Sales doubled that day, Paiement said.

“We did what we thought we could do to help people realize what a great variety store we have,” Gray said.

But the true goal is for customers to help the store make it through the winter, Gray and Jepson said.

The summer and tourist seasons typically bring from 800 to 1,000 people to Anderson’s for food and gas. With Anderson’s located across the street from the local snowmobile trails, the winter months bring a regular flow of riders.

So far, though, December temperatures have remained unusually high in Aroostook and rain has melted the snow that arrived before Thanksgiving.

“We really are operating on a month-to-month basis now,” Paiement said. “If we have to keep downsizing, we might look at eliminating the bakery or groceries for a while.”

If that happened, many grocery customers would be forced to travel nearly 20 miles south to Caribou, one of Aroostook’s two cities, Jepson said.

Plus, a Stockholm without Anderson’s would mean the loss of yet another one-stop shop near Route 161, which goes from Caribou to Fort Kent.