After 107 years in the Little Falls area of Gorham, the Sawyer family closed their general store last January. For much of the 20th century Sawyer’s Variety was one of several small business clustered near the bridge where the Gray Road (202) crosses the Presumpscot River into Windham.
Like Sawyer’s, Nicely’s Market in northwest Gorham was a business owned by generations of one family. When it closed in 2015, Brenda Nicely reminisced that it had been “a place where neighbors gathered, especially in the morning.”
In the 1980s after Maine laws permitted supermarkets to be open on Sundays, small general stores, already losing customers, lost even more. By then too, Gorham people living outside the Village were willing and able to drive longer distances for their groceries. And when new equipment enabled people to pump their own gas, convenience stores with self-service gas pumps located on major thoroughfares signaled the end for most locally-owned groceries and gas stations. Today Americans buy 80% of their fuel at company-owned convenience stores and most of their groceries at supermarkets.
The managers of some Gorham convenience stores are trying to provide the services 21st century shoppers want, while also striving for the atmosphere of a general store. A half mile west of the closed Sawyer’s store at the roundabout at routes 202 and 237, is one
of two Gorham Lil’ Marts owned by the Nouri Corporation. The other is on route 25, a half mile south of the former Nicely’s site. Along with the “grab and go” customers who come for gas, lottery tickets, cigarettes and cold drinks, the roundabout store has a regular clientele for morning coffee and serves local workers who buy store-made pizza and sandwiches at lunchtime. “We want to be a neighborhood store,” said assistant manager Maryann Peavey.
Further down busy route 25 on Lower Main Street, TNT Quickstop is owned by a Scarborough businessman, but run by a manager known to locals as “Cookie.” He is busy with the recent reopening of the convenience store, gas pumps, and car wash bays which were destroyed by a fire in May 2016.
Although he is stocking the usual convenience store products and services, including take-out chicken and an enlarged “beer cave,” he too wants to be more than an impersonal quick stop. “Traffic drives customers,” he says, but he feels “most excited about seeing all the faces” of his old regular customers back again.