Tags: damariscotta, furniture
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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.
Tags: books, bookstore, damariscotta, maine coast
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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.
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.
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.
Tags: damariscotta, maine, newcastle, renys, s'cotti, senter's department store
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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.