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Bristol Area Lions Club Gets Flavor of Round Top Ice Cream 06/05/2014

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Although a lot has changed at Round Top Ice Cream since Gary and Brenda Woodcock bought the business in 1987, an insistence on quality ingredients and good customer service has remained the same. At a recent presentation to the Bristol Area Lions Club, Gary Woodcock shared some of the history of Round Top Ice Cream, which began production in an old building on the grounds of Round Top Farm.

King Lion John Janell, left, thanks speaker Gary Woodcock of Round Top Ice Cream for his recent presentation to the Bristol Area Lions Club.

King Lion John Janell, left, thanks speaker Gary Woodcock of Round Top Ice Cream for his recent presentation to the Bristol Area Lions Club.

Sales took place at a screen-covered ice cream stand by the road, now the warming hut for the community ice rink. When land adjacent to the farm became available in the 1990s, Woodcock saw an opportunity and bought it, putting up a new building that emulated the Darrows Barn at Round Top Farm. Now manufacture and sales could take place under one roof.

In the winter, Woodcock noted, he produces a weekly average of 300 gallons of ice cream. That number swells to 3000 gallons per week in the summer, or 600 gallons every day. Three batch freezers accomplish this feat, one batch at a time and one flavor at a time, using local ingredients as much as possible. In-house production includes creating flavor labels along with the cardboard 3-gallon tubs used to hold scooped ice cream.

A native of Thomaston, Woodcock taught in Wiscasset for 37 years, running Round Top Ice Cream simultaneously for many of those years. By 2011 he was retired from both, but he still helps out his daughter Stephanie, who now runs the business, by making truck deliveries and troubleshooting as needed.

It is no surprise that Round Top Ice Cream was voted tastiest in the state in 2006, beating its nearest competitor by several thousand votes and validating what many Damariscotta customers know already.

The business meeting that followed Woodcock’s talk included updates on the Bristol Area Lions Club’s summer fundraisers for scholarship: the annual Golf Tournament and Silent Auction taking place at Wawenock Golf Club on Saturday, August 16 and raffle ticket sales taking place all summer long outside Reilly’s Store in New Harbor. The next meeting of the Bristol Area Lions Club, on Monday, June 16, will be the Club’s annual meeting and officer election.

As always, the Club encourages anyone interested in working together to serve the community to consider membership in the Lions. To learn more about the Bristol Area Lions Club, serving Bristol and South Bristol, contact Walt Johansson at 677-2584

Bristol Area Lions Club Welcomes Owner of Sproul’s Furniture 10/24/2013

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Lion Tom MacGregor thanks speaker Laura Sproul of Sproul’s Furniture for her recent presentation to the Bristol Area Lions Club

Lion Tom MacGregor thanks speaker Laura Sproul of Sproul’s Furniture for her recent presentation to the Bristol Area Lions Club

In 1939 John A. Sproul opened a furniture store in a former grocery alongside the Damariscotta/Newcastle bridge. Nearly 75 years later that home furnishings business is still successful and still in the family. Laura Sproul, only child of the founder, recently shared her memories of growing up in the business for the Bristol Area Lions Club.

Laura Sproul never expected to take over the furniture business, having studied instead to be an English teacher, which she did for 28 years at Wiscasset High School. Although not trained for it, Sproul loves the family furniture business that she now runs. She explained that some of the business practices begun by her father are still in use, from inventory to pricing, with a special emphasis on quality merchandise and top-notch customer service.

The longevity and team spirit of Sproul’s workforce attests to the fact that John Sproul ran his business to be fun as well as fair.

Sproul Furniture offers services to outfit entire houses, and the company has customers as far afield as Belfast and Portland. Remarkably, deliveries within Lincoln County are free. The company prides itself on promoting furniture that is made in the USA.

Even during the economic challenges of the last few years, Sproul has maintained quality inventory, which well-informed consumers will always seek out.

Sproul Furniture is one of five similar businesses locally, and it is a challenge to keep up with the competition, but it also keeps the company current. Laura Sproul prides herself on the fact that many shoppers walk through her store just for ideas, which attests to the creativity and currency that her staff impart to their many casual and comfortable furniture displays.

In the business meeting that followed Laura Sproul’s talk, Lion Bill Byrnes received recognition for 15 years of membership in the Bristol Area Lions Club. Discussion ensued on the Club’s annual eyeglass collection and on member recruitment. The next meeting of the Bristol Area Lions Club, on Monday, November 4, will feature Bristol resident Pete Hannah who will be speaking on forestry. To make dinner reservations for that meeting please call 677-6191.

Maine Coast Book Shop Owner Addresses Bristol Area Lions Club 03/14/2012

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A Maine Coast Book Shop website photo

At its most recent meeting the Bristol Area Lions Club welcomed Susan Porter, owner of Maine Coast Book Shop and Café, who traced the history of the business and shared some of the challenges faced by independent bookstores in today’s economic climate.

Susan got her start at the Brunswick Bookland in the 1970s, where she found her calling and learned the multiple facets of the book-selling business. By the 1980s she was an employee at Maine Coast Bookshop, eventually buying out the owner who had hired her as a bookseller.

The business had operated in various locations in downtown Damariscotta since 1964 and had survived through various recessions, but Porter admitted that the rise of chain bookstores presented the largest challenge to her as a new business owner at that time.

Fortunately, she added, the support of the local community mitigated many of those challenges and by 2000, she and her husband were able to buy out her business partners and purchase the building which Maine Coast Bookshop and Café currently occupies.

According to Porter, the financial meltdown of 2008, combined with the rise of online websites for books and the advent of the e-reader has presented the most serious challenge to the physical book.

Seeing bookstores fail all around the United States, Susan consulted with others in the profession and became energized to keep Maine Coast Book Shop open and thriving. That has taken enormous creativity, and the results since then have been positive. One can now purchase books on the bookstore’s website, http://www.mainecoastbookshop.com.

Sidelines like children’s art supplies, book lights, and Kenyan tea are now available at the store. Collaborations with other local businesses, Skidompha Library, and Lincoln Theater are helping too, along with more book signings and readings at the store.

Porter added that having a great staff in a great location is key. Such efforts have not gone unnoticed; in 2008, Maine Coast Book Shop and Café was named the New England Book Store of the Year by the Book Publishers’ Representatives of New England.

Lion John Janell thanks Susan Porter for her presentation on the Maine Coast Book Shop and Café.

In the business meeting that followed Susan Porter’s talk, Lion Bill Crider was recognized for 25 years of service to the Bristol Area Lions Club. The annual Elmer Tarr Roadside Clean Up, with help from PWA volunteers and several scout groups, will take place on Saturday, April 21.

At the next meeting of the Bristol Area Lions Club, on Monday, March 19, Lieutenant Rand Maker of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office will discuss the services they provide to the community. To make dinner reservations for that meeting, please call 677-6191. To learn more about the Bristol Area Lions Club, serving Bristol and South Bristol, contact John Janell at 563-7402.

Bristol Area Lions learn about Frances Perkins 11/27/2011

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Laura Fortman, newly appointed executive director of the Frances Perkins Center, talked passionately about the career of the first woman cabinet member, Secretary of State Frances Perkins.

Perkins earned a bachelor’s degree at Mt. Holyoke, and a master’s in sociology at Columbia. While there Perkins took a course in history. The class had students observe working conditions at some factories and she saw their low wages and poor working conditions.

In 1910, before women had the right to vote, she achieved statewide prominence as head of the New York Consumers League. In that position she lobbied arduously for better working hours and conditions. While in N.Y. she witnessed the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 where 146 working women died. At first she thought they were throwing out bolts of cloth from upper story windows, and then realized it was women jumping to their deaths onto the streets below. Management had locked the doors and there was no way out.

Perkins was chosen to serve on the N.Y. State Factory Commission established after the fire to improve job safety. Later she served as N.Y. Labor Commissioner under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1933 when FDR was appointed President of the United States he called her into his office. He wanted her to be his Secretary of Labor, the first woman to serve on a Presidential Cabinet. She told him she would only accept under her own terms. She held a piece of paper and he motioned for her to continue. She ticked off the items: “a forty-hour workweek, a minimum wage, worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation, a federal law banning child labor, direct federal aid for unemployment relief, Social Security, a revitalized public employment service, and health insurance.”

Perkins was proposing a fundamental and radical restructuring of American society. “Nothing like this has ever been done in the United States” she said. “You know that don’t you?” He paused and said he would back her. She held that position for 12 years longer than any other Secretary of Labor.

Tomlin Coggeshall, founder of the Frances Perkins Center, then gave a PowerPoint presentation of her life and the family home, a 57-acre farm on the River Road in Newcastle. He remembers his grandmother fondly. Perkins grandmother and parents were Mainers and the family business was brick making. The kiln was on their land next to the Damariscotta River. When the industry began to decline, in the 1870’s, her father moved the family to Boston, where Frances was born.

She used the home in Newcastle frequently as a retreat from her demanding work and retiring to it later in life. She is buried in Newcastle. Coggeshall talked about her unending perseverance in facilitating the passing of the Social Security Act of 1935. The previous year Congress had hastily authorized the Committee on Economic Security, but adjourned without making any appropriation to support it. Perkins had to “borrow” staff from other government departments and raise money from charitable organizations. The Lions Club of America was one that put up money for actuaries.

In 2010, 75 years after its birth, nearly 53 million Americans received $703 billion in Social Security benefits.

The next meeting of the Bristol Area Lions will be Mon., on Dec. 5, when the guest speaker will be Mark Gosselin, Director of Admissions at Central Maine Community College. Special guests for the evening will be Jay Pinkerton, Headmaster of Lincoln Academy and George Masters of Masters Machine. To make dinner reservations for that meeting, or to learn more about the Bristol Area Lions Club, please call 677-2095.

John Reny relates Reny history to Bristol Lions 02/21/2010

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On Feb. 15 the Bristol Lions welcomed John Reny, President of R.H. Reny Inc. He is a true Mainer born at Miles Hospital like his mother and grandmother, an indication of the deep roots he has in the community. Reny went to Lincoln Academy and majored in sociology at the University of Maine in Orono.

He and his brother Bob are carrying on the tradition of their father, Robert H. Reny.

R.H. Reny went to work for R.H. White in Boston, later he moved to back to Maine and started work in Damariscotta in 1948 at Senter’s Department store. The Senters provided him with meals and rented space to him in their home. After a year he requested a raise, received it had his rent raised. R.H. then quit, obtained a $5,000 G.I. loan and opened a store across the street in October 1949.

He discovered what a dire time it was for retailing in the winter. He had one employee, a woman. He loaded up his old Hudson and drove down the peninsulas selling door-to-door.

He didn’t sell much, drank a lot of coffee and supplied the folks with the news from S’cotti. Next spring the fishermen remembered his visits and came up to his store.

His second store was in Bridgeton which at that time was three hours away. He would close the Damariscotta store and drive three hours to open the store in Bridgeton. At the end of the day, he would drive home. He also drove to New York City to buy his goods, and then back in a day.

Most of the current Reny’s stores were bought, because in those days a store could be bought for $10,000. Although many are located downtown, some are also in shopping centers like the Renys in Camden.

When it came time expand into Belfast, John Reny was sent by his father to negotiate a lease for space for $1 a foot. The landlord was appalled at the offer and told him to go back to his father for another offer. He came back with an offer of ninety cents and told the landlord, “You had better take it- the next offer won’t be any better.”

When Cabbage Patch Dolls came out, Coleco sent them 12 dolls for Christmas. They raised the question of “What do you do with 12 dolls?

Renys gave them away by running a raffle in each of their 12 stores and it was wall-to-wall people.” The following year Coleco sent 24 before Christmas. They purchased 3000 Cabbage Patch Dolls made in South Africa with strange names and sold them for $19.99 each.

When Walmart came into Maine it was just like Renys. The company quickly figured out that you can’t out cheap, cheap.

Renys brought in quality goods like Carhartt, Columbia and Woolwich and went for value. Walmart was strong in hard goods, but not in soft goods. The first year versus Walmart sales were flat, the next year they increased by 3 percent.

Last year sales were up 5 percent. Renys now has between 400 and 500 employees in 15 locations. They enjoy the best credit rating from Dun & Bradstreet and don’t borrow money.

In 60 years the company has made a lot of friends and their vendors know they will be paid promptly. They get the first choice on small lots, but also are offered part of larger 10 trailer load lots before they go to larger retailers.

When the new warehouse was being built in Newcastle, Renys considered moving the two Damariscotta stores into the old warehouse building on Chapman Street. It was more spacious and had plenty of space for parking. They decided against it knowing that it would be the death of downtown Damariscotta.

Renys is the longest surviving family-owned business in Maine. John and Bob run the business now, and John’s daughter Faustine, who majored in business in college, has joined the family business. Generally, the odds of success of a second generation running a family business is only 30 percent and the third generation‘s success rate is only 15 percent. Renys is continuing to beat those odds!

The next dinner meeting of the Bristol Area Lions will be on Mon., March 1 at 6 p.m… It will be the annual “Speak-Out” speech competition, when the Lions hear from local Lincoln Academy students on a subject of their choosing. The winner moves to the next level of competition.
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