After almost five months of construction, Swan Lake Grocery is poised to reopen its doors to the community March 3.

On the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, a fiery crash claimed the life of Andrew McHugh, 23, of South Bethlehem, New York, after his pickup truck slammed into the side of the store.

The crash and a resulting explosion from the vehicle caused extensive fire, water and smoke damage to the store and the apartments above.

In an interview with The Republican Journal Feb. 23, owners Rob and Deb Newcomb said the part of the building that sustained the crash had to be totally reconstructed. While they said they are excited to reopen and see the customers they have missed, they acknowledged there is still a good deal of work still ahead of them.

On this day, the store was a beehive of activity with workers stocking shelves and last- minute construction details to be tended to.

A large metallic heating, ventilation and air conditioning duct snaked around the loading dock ceiling and power to the coolers was still being worked on, according to Rob. On top of all this, during the interview, different alarms for the building were being tested.

“My original goal was to be back Feb. 1,” he said, but they missed that date, “not for lack of effort.”

“My insurance adjuster said I was overzealous, and that most people take years to rebuild from a fire,” he said. Undeterred, Rob rebuilt the business in less than half a year.

Everything ordered, Rob said, came early or on time. “We were fighting for space to put stuff in as the store was being rebuilt,” Deb added.

Thanks to the dedicated fire crews from Belfast, Monroe, Frankfort Village and Frankfort, and Searsport, Rob said, the oldest part of the building survived. “I can’t say enough about all the fire departments,” he said. “They saved the building.”

Apartments above the store were also affected by the fire. Rob said tenants were out of their apartments for three weeks while construction crews worked on them. One apartment that faces the lake is still being worked on, and Rob anticipates finishing that one in May.

The Newcombs said the support from the community has been “fantastic” and all the updates on Facebook have been well-received. According to recent posts, a person is needed to help unload trucks and run the register and a nighttime manager with ordering skills is also desired.

People interested in applying can stop in at the store and get an application or download one from the Swan Lake Grocery website (swanlakegrocery.com/pdf/employment.pdf). Applications can be dropped off or mailed to Swan Lake Grocery, 979 Swan Lake Ave., Swanville, ME 04915.

Rob said this is his 44th year working at the store, having started when he was 12. “This is my life and it has been my life,” he said. “It is pretty important” that we could rebuild.

“We’re looking forward to coming back as the community store and seeing our customers,” Rob said. "We are very thankful we are going to be open again."