Casco Village Variety: Door is open again

VILLAGE STORE OPENS DOORS — (From left to right) Jennifer Morgan, Kay Mahoney and owner Evelyn Meserve gesture to the open door of Casco Village Variety, which had a soft opening over the weekend. The remodeled store is located off Route 121 in the building of the former AG Store. (De Busk Photo)

VILLAGE STORE OPENS DOORS — (From left to right) Jennifer Morgan, Kay Mahoney and owner Evelyn Meserve gesture to the open door of Casco Village Variety, which had a soft opening over the weekend. The remodeled store is located off Route 121 in the building of the former AG Store. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Residents in and around Casco Village have gone a long 15 months without a nearby convenience store. That’s how long ago the former AG Store went out of business.

For the past two months, there has been a swirl of activity inside the store. Curious passers-by have stopped in to get the scoop and ask the million dollar question: When will the store be open again?

Then, over the weekend, a much-anticipated opening was greeted with many warm welcomes. At 3:15 p.m. on July 4, the new store brought in its first dollar, which is now framed and hanging on the wall.

Local Reverend Joyce Long said that the old store was an anchor in the Village, and that had been missing. With the re-opening, that empty space has been filled and once again an anchor seemed secured in solid ground.

“My world is in balance again,” resident Tom Mulkern wrote on the store’s Facebook page, adding, “Stopped in for coffee. Thank you!”

While the gas pumps won’t be in service, people will be able to purchase propane. Inside the store, ovens will be fired up for pizzas, and sandwiches will be made to order. All the staples — bread, milk, butter and beverages — are already stocked on the shelves.

Evelyn Meserve, who grew up in Poland, is the new owner. The familiar store has a new name, too — Casco Village Variety.

“We chose to do a soft opening. I put it on the Facebook page. Word went right through the town. So many people stopped in to say, ‘Welcome to the community.’ Some felt obligated to make a small purchase. Others truly needed something in the store,” she said.

Actually, those heartfelt hellos began months ago.

“People have been supportive, even before we opened — popping their heads in and saying they’re glad we are here, and asking if there was anything they could do to help us get ready to open,” said Evelyn Meserve.

As soon as she uttered those words, a woman walked through the door.

“It is about time. I live on the top of the hill, and I’m not going to Windham to shop anymore,” the woman said.

Meserve replied, “If there is anything that you’d like us to carry, please let us know.”

The lady paused. Then, she suggested that a list be placed on the cashier’s counter so people could write down those requests. One had already been started.

For the past six years, Meserve, who has a background in business management, has been running a membership organization.

Her objective was to return to Maine, and when she heard the commercial property was on the real estate market, she jumped at the chance.

In March, she decided to pursue the purchase. By April, she began renovations to the store.

“We just gave it a facelift,” she said.

Her niece, Jennifer Morgan, and friend Kay Mahoney joined the effort.

“The remodel took about two months. We sanded and refinished the floors so they are lighter instead of darker wood. We had the ceiling redone. It was the old suspended ceiling. We just made it uniform all the way across,” Meserve said.

“One freezer had fallen through the floor,” she said. So, it was replaced with a new, inviting ice cream freezer. The other, existing coolers are still there.

On the northwest side of the building, a window and a door were installed. “The goal in the future is to put a deck off on that side,” Meserve said.

The window behind the checkout counter had shelves built into it. That was replaced.

“We opened it up so we could see the nice lake across the street. We basically opened it up just to make it brighter and more cheerful,” she said.

Another customer echoed how those changes improved the building.

“Boy, this is nice, Wow! Look at the floor. Look at the window — it’s so much lighter in here,” she said.

Another big change is the removal of the gasoline pumps. Rumor had it that small quantities might be available for all-terrain vehicles and motor boats, but that is not the case.

“I don’t feel it will be a detriment not having the gasoline tanks. They needed extensive work on them. I made the active choice to take them off. My decision all along was to take the tanks out,” Meserve said.

“It was easier and safer to have them removed,” she said.

Soon, pizzas and hot and cold sandwiches will be available for takeout. Additionally, the store will have breakfast sandwiches on the menu.

“We are finishing renovations on the ovens. My goal is to have it up and running by Casco Days,” she said.

Community is a valuable commodity in the Village; and those neighbors have been supportive.

“Myself and Pear’s (Ice Cream and Hoagie Shop) are somewhat in competition, but it doesn’t feel like it,” she said.

“It’s nice to have everyone pulling together to make this happen,” Meserve said, adding that there were some long days during the renovation period.

“That is an understatement,” Mahoney said.

“It is all worth it ten million times over,” Mahoney said.

Meserve agreed.

“There were times we were doing the renovation when something else happened that needed work. There was never a time that I said, ‘That is it. I don’t want to do this. This is a mistake.’ Never,” Meserve said.

She endured that phase with a little help from her friends and a lot of community support.

“It is nice to be doing a business that you want to do, and the community wants you here and wants you to succeed. It gives you so much more desire to succeed,” Meserve said.

“Our main goal is to be an active part of the community. If there are events going on, we will help anyway we can, whether it is helping with supplies or extending our hours,” she said.

 

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