John Karst, who opened Emery's Outpost two weeks ago, fell in love with Aroostook County on hunting trips with his brother and friends.
John Karst stands inside Emery's Outpost, his new hunting and outdoor gear shop dedicated to the memory of his father, Robert Emery Karst. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — For Hancock County native John Karst, Aroostook County was an ideal destination for big-game hunting and fishing and getting away from everyday life.

That’s why, after relocating to Caribou, Karst, 58, decided to open the region’s only store fully dedicated to hunting and outdoor gear for people and their dogs.

Karst opened Emery’s Outpost just two weeks ago, in a small space attached to his home on Plante Road. Located on the rural outskirts of Caribou, Karst’s business is the only one of its kind in central Aroostook since the closing of Ben’s Trading Post in Presque Isle two years ago. Other hunting and sporting goods stores are located in the St. John Valley and southern Maine.

Though big-box and convenience stores often include sections for fishing and other outdoor gear, Karst hopes that Emery’s hunting-lodge vibe and specialty items will help lure in hunters.

“I don’t want this place to be like everybody else’s,” Karst said.

Since opening two weeks ago, Karst has mainly been selling hunting and filet knives, knife sharpeners with various sized grits, meat cleavers and dog products that include remote training collars, custom-made tags, bowls and medical kits.

A native of Lamoine, just a boat ride away from Mount Desert Island, Karst ran his family’s blueberry farm for 37 years before making the move to Caribou in 2021. He discovered most of The County as an adult while on hunting trips with his brother and friends.

As a youngster, Karst hunted every year for deer, rabbits and partridge with his father, the late Robert Emery Karst. The pair traveled all over the state, including to more northern areas like Greenville and Houlton. Karst’s father was selected in Maine’s moose permit lottery twice.

“He was my best friend and hunting buddy,” Karst said of his father. “He raised rabbit hounds and was a well-educated deer hunter, a lot better than I was.”

Everything about Emery’s Outpost comes from the memory and spirit of Karst’s father, who died in 2002.

Robert Emery Karst owned a camp in Surry. At the front of that camp stood a sign that read “The Outpost Karst.” The store’s name Emery’s Outpost is a combination of Robert’s middle name, that driveway sign and his love of small outpost stores scattered throughout Maine.

Karst remembers the life lessons he learned on hunting trips with his father even more than the wildlife they witnessed.

“If I learned anything, it was to respect my elders, to talk with people and be honest and to give a hard day’s work,” Karst said.

Karst has not hunted in several years for medical reasons. These days he lives a quiet life with his 1-year-old dog Cassie, a pit bull and border collie mix. The pair often spot moose and bears lingering in the field across the road.

With Emery’s Outpost new to the area, local hunting enthusiasts are still learning about the business. Jesse Cote, owner of Backwoods Guide Service based in Connor Township, said that Emery’s could add a much-needed source for hunting gear.

“There really hasn’t been any local place between Houlton and Fort Kent since Ben’s [Trading Post] closed,” Cote said.

If anything, his middle-of-nowhere outpost will give people a chance to experience the best of The County, Karst said.

“Aroostook County is unique. It’s kind of the end of the trail, the last place where you can go on a dirt road, drive all day and never see other cars,” Karst said. “People still want places to go hunting and fishing and get away from the grind of 9-to-5 work.”