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Save the general store, the heart of the small town

Opening day at the Way Way store in Saco, Maine is always cause for celebration. After a long winter, consumers flock like sugar daddies to get their first taste of spring. “I wanted to be the first customer of the year for good luck,” Alex said.

Over the past decade or so, these visits have felt especially sweet. For a while, everyone thought this store was closed for good. “It’s gone, it was sad,” said Peter Skontras. “It was an old friend died.”

Skontras grew up in Saco. The Way Way Store is basically run as a country general store. Back then, it was considered “Way Way” out of town and was run by the same family for nearly a century. When it closed in 2003, it sat empty for eight years, until Skontras and his wife, Bridget, both retired teachers, reopened the store as a labor of love.


The Way Way Store, located in Saco, Maine, closed in 2003, and sat empty for eight years until retired teacher Peter Skantras and his wife, Bridget, reopened the general store as a labor of love.

CBS News

“It was a treasure,” Skontras said, “and it was taken away from them to really understand and appreciate it, to appreciate more of what it was.”


The Way Way Store in Saco, Maine is open for business.

CBS News

Albany, VT. In its community, a 2013 fire forced their general store to close. “It was a real loss to our community,” Christine Urie said. “It was a hole.”

Uri and his neighbors immediately felt the absence, but any new owner hoping for a profit was intimidated by the high renovation costs. Today, the Albany shop – The Jenny – is thriving again, run by partners Emily McClure, Kit Bassom and Jana Smart. The women already owned a successful store in the nearby town of Craftsbury, but in Albany’s case, the community now owns the building. “It’s the Albany store, and we’re operating it,” McClure said. “And I think that’s the key to success in this kind of business.”


The Genie opened in Albany, Vt., in 2021, after the community raised funds to buy and renovate the shuttered store.

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The Albany Community Trust raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase and renovate the store using everything from grant applications to pie auctions. “This is a place that says it’s a town, right? There is one,” said Ben Doyle, president of the Conservation Trust of Vermont. The group is helping cities take charge of their local stores so they can survive.

“We want to be able to go to a store where the people who run it know who we are, they know what we like, and they offer things that we can buy, and a sense of community that you can’t buy,” Doyle said.

That sense of community is alive and well. They sell local staples and sandwiches, but people are coming for more than just the convenience. “Maybe somebody doesn’t really need something from the store, but they’re like, ‘Ah, I’m just going to pop in and, like, get one thing,'” says Smart. But it’s not about things; it’s about people and connections, and a sense of place and community.”


The Genny is a vision.

CBS News

The typical story of rural general stores is not necessarily a happy one. Unless you’ve got someone doing it for the love of it, it’s a tough road for young entrepreneurs. That’s why the locally-supported model may offer a way forward — a community decides there’s value in having a store that goes beyond the bottom line.

McClure said that’s what’s happening, trying to hold on to Main Streets: “Keep these places that actually bring people together, that’s not another Dollar General, that’s not a big box store, that actually has a heart.”


Hanging out at The Jenny in Albany, VT.

CBS News

For more information:

Story Production Sari Aviv. Editor: Remington Corper.

See more:

251 Club: Visiting Every Town in Vermont


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