“I’m excited for it … I’m free!” said Dan Bouthot, owner of Uncle Tom’s Market, as a sizeable grin emerged from underneath his unruly white beard. After 62 years and seven months, the market, located on the corner of Pleasant Street and Westminster Avenue, has closed its doors.
Uncle Tom’s Market was nothing short of an institution in Brunswick. It was the primary supplier of kegs to Bowdoin students and, over the last several decades, became widely known for having one of the most diverse selections of beer in the region.
At the age of 27, Bouthot’s father, L. Thomas “Uncle Tom” Bouthot, opened the Model Market store on April 25, 1957. Dan was born five years later, and he began working there around the age of seven. The elder Bouthot owned and operated the market until June of 2011, two weeks before his death at the age of 81.
“Uncle Tom” Bouthot changed the name of the store to Uncle Tom’s Market in 1976. Despite its proximity to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home and her abolitionist novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the name change had no connection to Stowe’s book.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the elder Bouthot’s sister lived across the street with her five children, who all frequented their uncle’s shop. Before long, their moniker for him, “Uncle Tom,” caught on throughout the neighborhood.
“There were probably about 50 kids that would come to this store at that time … and are calling him Uncle Tom,” said his son. “That’s what it became, you know?”
Uncle Tom was a beloved figure in town, well-known to many of midcoast Maine’s beer-lovers.
Jesse Bishop, the last employee hired by the elder Bouthot before his death, was hired in 2009 and worked at the market for roughly three years.
“That store gave me a start and gave me a purpose in life,” Bishop said in a message to the Orient. “It’s because of Uncle Tom’s Market [that] I am now working for the Brunswick School Department.”
“Everyone working at [Bath Iron Works] traveling South stopped there for snacks, beer, homemade peanuts, whatever,” said Lenny Roy, a Bath Iron Works employee of Falmouth, Maine, in a message to the Orient. “Tom was a great guy.”
This sentiment was also echoed by Bowdoin students.
“There’s this type of beer called Duchesse that I couldn’t find anywhere else,” said Elise Lindbergh ’21. “It’s a good, weird beer, and I wanted to see if they had it and they did.”
When it first opened, the Model Market sold a variety of produce and grocery products. As supermarkets moved into town, meat counter business declined, and the Bouthot father-son team increasingly focused the market’s business on beer.
Over the decades, the two grew the shop’s beer selection to over 500 varieties through a process of trial and error—they would order new beers and, if they sold quickly, they’d order more. Though Dan Bouthot admitted that he “doesn’t get much,” in the way of knowing what’s popular, he said that customers often hailed his selection of beer as the best anywhere east of Portland, Maine.
After the elder Bouthot died, Dan ran the business more or less single-handedly until two weeks ago. Though he had one part-time employee, Bouthot himself has put in over 60 hours per week for the last eight and a half years.
Bouthot has a son and a daughter, who both have other careers—neither has any interest in running the market. Without an heir, Bouthot finally made the decision to close the business on Saturday, November 23.
“I just got to the point where this is a little bit much,” Bouthot said. “I’m done being done down.”
Business had also slowed down. Before the dismantling of Bowdoin’s fraternity system in 1997, kegs constituted a much more substantial source of income for Bouthot.
“It wouldn’t be unheard of to sell 20 kegs in a weekend,” he said.
His record was a whopping 107 kegs during Senior Week in 1995. Though odd and unique craft brews made up for the decline during peak season, it was the keg sales that had kept business going during the winter.
Legal tussles with the Liquor Board and the Brunswick Police Department, as well as the continuous hassle of paperwork, also made the decision to close easier. Though kegs can still be obtained from Bootleggers Beverage Warehouse in Topsham, the closing of Uncle Tom’s Market marks the end of a beer dynasty in the area.
Bouthot looks forward to tackling a variety of projects at home and having more time to cook extravagant meals for his family. He has no specific plan for the future, other than to finish what stock remains of his favorite beer, a Flemish Red Ale from BFM called Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien.