Marcie and Jeremy Howard said they are proud to take over and renovate the Center General Store in Lincolnville.

The couple has two young boys, two independent businesses, and a baby on the way. Seated at the kitchen table in their sunny Hope home, Marcie and Jeremy expressed excitement about the challenge of getting the store up and running. Jeremy, who owns Heartwood Carpentry, said he and his crew plan to begin the extensive renovation in May. He casts a sidelong glance at Marcie, who is due in just 6 weeks, as he says this. She beams back at him.

They hope to have the store open by fall 2012.

While Lincolnville residents have Drake’s Corner Store near the center, the historic center general store has been shuttered for several years. In October 2011 Briar and Jon Fishman purchased the store and several buildings across the street; they also helped start the Lincolnville Farmers Market. The Howards and Fishmans are friends, and Jeremy has been “directly involved behind the scenes” helping with inspections, brainstorming, and watching the vision evolve since the Fishmans purchased the property last fall.

“The amount of work they did was phenomenal,” said Jeremy. He said the Fishmans approached his family in February to formally ask if they’d be interested in running the store.

“At first I was like ‘that’s such a huge thing,'” Marcie explained. She and Jeremy said much of the initial work, including removing three buried gas tanks behind the store and passing an EPA inspection, had already been completed.

“What sealed the deal was when we realized how much the community wanted to have [the store] as soon as possible,” said Jeremy Howard.

The Howards have agreed to purchase both the store and the former Grampa Hall’s antiques building across the street. The couple said they can’t stress enough how important the Fishmans’ efforts have been in creating positive momentum in Lincolnville Center. The Howards hope to continue the tradition of offering local products with the Farmers Market and the store.

The couple emphasized that they’re still in the “brainstorming stage” regarding the details of the store. They know they’ll focus on local, sustainable products. They’ll have a lunch counter and ice cream. They hope to sell a selection of beer and wine, they’re also thinking about trying to stock animal feed. Mostly they’re intent on listening to the community.

“We’re working to find out what the community wants and needs the store to be,” Jeremy explained.

“We’re trying to tailor more to what the community doesn’t have,” Marcie said.

The couple will try to meet the community’s basic needs locally, helping residents find the things they might otherwise have to drive a long way to get.

One of the focuses of Jeremy’s company is environmentally conscientious building practices and he said the store renovation will be a “model for green building.” He plans to use non-toxic materials and will “investigate the feasibility of solar.” They’ll also renovate the large residential apartment on the second floor of the building and redo an addition on the back to “create more space for the store.” Above the refitted addition, the Howards said they’ll be adding up to four offices. They explained that they’ve heard locals are having to drive to other communities to rent office space and their goal is to offer an option closer to home. Inside the store they hope to have space for patrons to sit and enjoy a sandwich or coffee in Wi-Fi equipped space.

“We want to create that space that every small town in Maine needs,” said Jeremy. “We feel like it’s not really our store, it belongs to the community.”

Despite the necessary updates and restoration work, the Howards are intent on preserving the original character of the structure.

“We have old photos of what it used to look like,” Jeremy said. “Those will be our building plans.”

The store has stood for at least a century and been owned by several families.

“It’s one of those legacy things,” said Jeremy.

The Howards will work on the store first and then begin the process of sprucing up the Grampa Hall’s building. They’ll continue to utilize that building for the Farmers Market, which runs year round on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. They also said they’ll reach out to other organizations that might be interested in using the space. They plan to get a website up soon and take suggestions from the community about what its collective needs are.

“We’re trying to be like sponges right now, listening to all of the suggestions everyone has,” Jeremy said. The Howards have already received words of support from Andrew Stewart, owner of the nearby Hope General Store.

Marcie, who teaches sign language to young children and educators through her small business, Sprouting Signers, said she’s excited to delve into this new endeavor. She said they’re focused on keeping the store “how it used to be” while offering an array of healthy local choices, too. Marcie grew up in Ontario and said the Lincolnville Center General Store was one of the places she admired on her first visit to the Midcoast 11 years ago.

“It was one of the places I loved when I first came to Maine,” she said.


Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at jlookner@villagesoup.com