"Where are we going to get our dollar-socks now?" asks Topsham resident and Grand City Variety patron Bonnie Wheeler as she sits enjoying her morning coffee at Grand City's restaurant on Tuesday.
Grand City Variety, a staple of one-stop shopping for Brunswick and Topsham residents for over 15 years, is closing in December.
Grand City's manager of 15 years Scott Fenwick understands the value that Grand City has for its customers, but says that two years of declining sales has forced him to close the store.
"We lost a substantial amount of money in 2007," said Fenwick, who bought the company from his father and his father's two partners when they decided to retire in 1993, moving Grand City Variety from its 17-year location in the Hannaford plaza to its current location on Maine Street. "I put funds back into the building this year just to keep it going. I have three kids and can't afford to fund my business any longer with no return." When Fenwick was offered a five-year renewal of his lease, he said he looked at declining sales, the economic downturn, and the closing of the naval air station as indicators that now was the time to close. He announced the decision in late September, and patrons have expressed their concern about what is to come.
"I've literally gotten some questions up to 200 times, such as, 'What am I going to do now?' and 'Where are we going to go?' Most of my clientele is over 50 years old, and they're upset their place is being taken away."
"There's a wailing wall at Grand City. You just can't see it," added Wheeler.
A Community Staple
At 10:00 a.m. at Grand Variety, the smell of bacon and eggs mingles in the air with ceaseless morning chatter. Linoleum floors, vinyl-cushioned diner booths and chairs, coat racks, free coffee-refills and waitresses dressed in blue aprons give the restaurant the air of an old-fashion diner.
Toward the back of the restaurant, a group of six regulars sits chatting as they finish their "Tuesday-morning breakfast rendezvous" at Grand City.
"We've been meeting here for years every Tuesday," said Brunswick resident Virginia Anderson. "We had all lost our spouses a while back, so we came together to support each other. We meet here and brighten each other's souls?it's like we can fill a void with the store."
According to Anderson, the group includes a total of about ten Brunswick residents, some of whom have been friends since kindergarten, and others who met during high school or at the workplace.
"If one don't show up, we ask our waitress, Tina, to call them up on the phone, to make sure they're alright or if they just overslept," said Tony Gagne.
Tony said his favorite things about Grand City are the service and the parking.
"I come here and my spot is always waiting for me out front," said Gagne. "And then I come inside and the waitresses are all good-looking and know how to make my eggs and sausage just how I like them."
Most customers agree that the convenience and community spirit of Grand City are what bring them back.
The store has served as a gathering place for Brunswick and Topsham senior citizens, who come to Grand City Variety to shop, eat, and see familiar faces.
"There are some customers who are in here every single day," said Annette Austin, who has worked at Grand City for two years and has been a Brunswick resident for 46 years. "For older ladies, they come in with a list of things to buy because it gets them out of the house and into an environment with lots of friendly people."
Upstairs in the Ladies' Wear section, Phyllis Ouelette stands folding undergarments and helping customers, as she has during her 20 years working at Grand City. She agrees that the store offers a special sense of community, not only for its customers but also for its employees.
"It's very sad that the store's closing, and when Scott told us, we were all crying. The employees are almost all women, and we're like sisters," said Ouelette. "This store is really like a ministry for people?they sometimes come here sad and leave happy."
According to Ouelette, "the economy is the culprit," but the change in clientele base has also impacted business.
"A lot of our most loyal client-base has passed," Ouelette said. "Bowdoin students still stop by, though, and they raise the dickens in here, buying all sorts of odd things," she quipped.
Michael Rothschild '10, one of many Bowdoin students who has frequented Grand City in the past, said in an e-mail to the Orient that he has bought everything from shoelaces to tennis balls to an easy chair at Grand City.
"Without Grand City, I'd have to go to Wal-Mart or Big Lots, which obviously isn't the most appealing thing to a lot of people," said Rothschild. "I think losing the store would be a big loss for Brunswick and just drive more and more people to Cooks Corner and keep people off the downtown sidewalks."
Fenwick said he does not know what will replace Grand City and will be interested to see how the dynamic of downtown Brunswick, which is already "dominated by restaurants" changes after Grand City closes.
"[Grand City closing] is a sign of the times," said Ouelette with a sigh. "It's the end of an era."