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After four decades, store owner retires from 'dream' to focus on health

Morrill General store will also be sold
By Fran Gonzalez | Mar 08, 2021
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Belfast Variety store on High Street March 4. Owners Ron and Sharon Benjamin will be selling their store after 41 years, together with Morrill General Store.

Belfast — After 41 years on the job, Ron Benjamin said it is still like a dream for him. “I don’t think you could write a better story.”

Benjamin, along with his wife Sharon, has been at the helm of Belfast Variety on High Street since 1980, when his father-in-law lent him $500 to put down on the purchase of the store.

Back then, he remembers, a man named Wendell from Bankers Trust, which is now Key Bank, believed in him and helped him finance the rest.

Because of health concerns, Benjamin said, he has entered into an agreement to sell the store, and the Morrill General store, which he has co-owned with his brother Bruce Benjamin for 34 years, to the same buyer.

Benjamin’s other brother, Joe, owns the Route 52 Belfast Variety store, which is not being sold.

“My health isn’t what it should be,” he said, “and to do this, I can’t be here seven days a week. I have to concentrate on my health.”

Six years ago, Benjamin discovered he had cancer and decided to retire. “I stayed in the house for two days watching 'Jeopardy,'” he said, before deciding to come back to work.

“I’m not dying or anything,” he said, “I just have to take care of some stuff and make sure I’m here for a while longer.”

While he admits to being uncertain if it is the right thing to do, he feels it is something that has to be done. “It’s the beginning of a new chapter.”

Benjamin’s three children, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren all help out at the store. His children, he said, have been working since they could walk.

Originally built by Virgil Fowles, who also lived at the High Street building, Benjamin said the store eventually became Hartford’s Variety before shutting down because of foreclosure. After Benjamin took over the store, he installed pinball and video games that paid the light bill.

”My wife and I worked day and night pretty much, just the two of us,” he said. “I think we sold $30 on the first day.”

Benjamin smiled as he recalled staying open one night until midnight to hit the $100 mark for the day.

The operation kept growing, he said, and now employs 30 people and has 1,000 customers a day. Some of his employees, he said, have worked there 25 to 30 years. “They’ve all worked so hard,” he said, “and that’s made it perfect.

“I hope they give the new people a chance.”

While Benjamin did not want to disclose who the new owners would be because the deal has not been finalized, he said they own “a lot of stores in Maine.” Besides owning stores in Farmington and Athens, they also own 7-11s in New York. “This is what they do,” he said.

They are good people he said, who would like all the employees to continue. The new owners will oversee operations and plan to hire managers to run the stores. Currently, Benjamin said, they are waiting for licenses, and he expects the transition to happen by the end of the month.

“I’d like to thank the Belfast Police, Fire Department, City Council and Public Works Department,” he said. “They have all helped us in the past.” And in Morrill, the town selectmen and Fire Department have also worked with the Benjamins.

“Our customer base is awesome, even our competitors have been gracious,” he said.

“And my wife,” he said, “I could not have picked a better, hard-working wife.”

Benjamin said he will miss his customers most of all and admits that he loves to “sell stuff. I like seeing everybody,” he said, “We have a lot of loyal ones that have been here forever.

“I’m so lucky to have had this opportunity,” he said, “it has been a dream, and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Belfast Variety owners Sharon and Ron Benjamin March 4. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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Comments (2)
Posted by: from the kitchen | Mar 09, 2021 05:27

Kudos to you both for all your years of service; you will be missed.

Posted by: Virgil Fowles Jr | Mar 08, 2021 14:50

Ronnie & Sharon:  I'm so glad you guys purchased the store and got it out of the doldrums.  My parents would be so proud to see how the little one room store has progressed over the years.  When they purchased it from Joe Nickerson it was just a small thing with a couple rooms in the back that we lived it...2 adults, 2 boys and a couple cocker spaniels.  My fathers first enlargement was a small house it purchased and had hauled in to sit behind the little store, a few years after the roofs were torn off and an upstairs apartment built from front to back.  The hardware wing was added on by you I think.  I think it qualifies for a Belfast Landmark.  You deserve a rest as I did...its a long haul, 13+ hrs. a day, seven days a week.  Good luck on your retirement..

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