As I drive through Piscataquis County, I do my best to scan my surroundings (while keeping my eyes on the road), looking for scenic photo-ops, new businesses, interesting people, and anything worthy of blogging about. Originally when I started “Peek into Piscataquis”, I wanted the blog to be a window for the world to see the things I see everyday, to meet the people I have the privilege of knowing, and learn about things to do and see around here.
The thing about rural communities is that sometimes the sweetest things you might come across don’t seem “news-worthy” at all. They are simple, every day experiences that add to the quality of life in Piscataquis County. For those of us who love to write, it is sometimes difficult to take a feeling and put it into words in a way that truly captures the truth of the emotion. That is my greatest challenge, most of the time.
I moved to Maine nine years ago with my husband and two young daughters from New Jersey to attend college, and had a 3-4 year plan, after which we thought we would return to NJ. It didn’t take long to fall in love with Maine. The change of pace was a welcomed one, the p e a c e and the quietness was like a soothing ointment for my soul. I knew there would be no better (or safer) place to raise our children.
But there was more.
Sure, I enjoyed the wide open spaces, the fresh air and local-grown foods, the lack of real traffic on the roads and at the check-out lines, and the fact that I could be in and out of a Division of Motor Vehicle Office in less than 30 minutes; all of those things were great.
And with them came a sense of contentment that just wasn’t there before. I knew my neighbors, the owners of our local businesses, I saw friends everywhere I went, and somehow I knew they had my back and I had theirs. The dog-eat-dog-keep-up-with-the -Jones’, fast-paced, competitive nature of the “Tri-State area” I was raised in was GONE. In the quietness, I could actually hear myself think, and I got to know myself a lot better. The connection I had with my husband and children got deeper. Something special was happening. Why would I ever want to leave this?
Everyday I realize there are many local residents who feel this way about living here, folks who seem to be content, satisfied, and joyful.One day, a couple of months ago, while driving through Guilford, I pulled in to Lovell’s Guilford Hardware. Andy and Terry Lovell have been owners of the establishment since 2006. They are Chamber members, so I was stopping in to chat about business and find out if there was anything I could do for them.
As I was approaching the front door, a gentleman was walking out carrying a bag with a big smile on his face.
“Are they giving stuff away in there?” I asked, smiling at him.
“No, but I always leave happy – great people in there!” He answered, holding the door for me.
“Where’re you from?”, I asked
“Greenville, live there year-round.”
I told him to have a great day, and as the door began to close behind me I could still hear him chuckle. This was a hardware store, and I couldn’t imagine what he was so happy about, but I was looking forward to finding out.
I walked in and asked if I could have a few moments with Andy. Though I had previously had the pleasure of meeting his wife Terry, this was my first opportunity to visit the store, and to meet Andy and have a conversation with him. I had heard some great things about him and how he runs his business, words like “super-helpful”, “honest business man”, “good guy”, “Andy’ll take care of ya”, “funny guy but he really knows his stuff!”.
One thing I love about hardware stores in rural communities is that they carry a myriad of items you would never expect to find. Selection, selection, selection. Here, at Lovell’s you will find the traditional hardware store items (probably more of a selection than you’d expect), but you’ll also find landscape tools and anything you would need for your garden, as well as pet food and livestock feed, lumber, kitchen cabinets, flooring, as well as grain, wood pellet stoves, blown insulation and culverts.The first thing that caught my eye when I walked in was the huge selection of K-Cups on a display facing the check out counter. I’d bet Keurig lovers wouldn’t think to buy their K-Cups (or brewers) at a hardware store (I certainly didn’t) !
I recently read an article from 2011 published by Bangor Daily News about this place, and I learned that the previous owners never really recovered from the flood of 1987; though they continued to operate, they were not able to invest the amount of time, energy and money required to make it all that it could be. According to the article, that all changed when the Lovell’s took it over in 2006.
After just a few short minutes of checking out K-cup flavors, a friendly associate escorted me to Andy’s office. He was friendly and welcomed me to have a seat.
I introduced myself, chatted about some of the changes at the Chamber, and started asking questions. I quickly learned that Andy has a background in building, which gives him a unique ability to help customers who are building anything.
He explained: “The customers come in here looking for lumber and nails or materials of some kind, and I will ask about their projects. It’s something I enjoy to be able to steer them in the right direction so they leave with exactly the tools and materials they need to do their project right the first time without having to come back a dozen times because they forgot something important. I am also able to give them advice on the project itself if it is something they haven’t attempted before. I am finding more and more that folks are attempting bigger jobs themselves to save some money. I want to be a resource for them. If I don’t carry something they need, I’ll call down to True Value or other local hardware stores to see where I can track the item down. That customer leaves happy; he will be back, that’s what we want.”
I asked Andy what else he thinks makes this place special, and what sets it apart, and he immediately leaned forward to answer my question, “We have AWESOME employees here, they are just great. They make this place special – and the customers love them.”
“Tell me about them, Andy.”
“My wife and I are the owners, and even though she works full-time outside of our store, she puts in many hours – I couldn’t do this without her. This is a family business, and it is so good to have my son Nolan working here with us. Then there’s a young woman who works for us, her name is Dani (Danielle), and that’s quite a story. She came in years ago back when her children were still pre-school aged. She walked around the store and shopped for a long time and didn’t want any help. I asked her again ‘are you sure I can’t help you find anything?’ to which she replied: ‘No, I just really love hardware stores!’; so I asked her to come back when her kids were both in school and I would hire her, and that’s exactly what she did.”
“And you hired her?”
“Yes, I did, she is a part-timer for us. It wasn’t long after that, a man came in with an armful of dirty, grimy pipes and needed to replace them. She took them from the customer with no concern for what she was wearing and went to the back, took the unit all apart to get the right sizes of each pipe and then put it all back together for him. She came back to the front of the store, all a mess, and she did not care, she was so proud she could do this for the customer. “
He continued, “Dustin, a full-timer, is a young man all the customers love. They come in and ask for him by name. He is very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. Then there’s Mark – he’s another full-timer that gives the customers great service and is really friendly. I am just so lucky to have such a great crew here. Lois, she is our bean counter. Comes in every night, faithfully to count out the drawer. She makes everyone laugh because she is such a riot. The day always ends well because it ends with Lois. Really great team…..” Just when I thought he was done, he continued, “Oh, let me tell you about Ray. Ray is our paint specialist. He is literally an artist when it comes to mixing paint. He won’t give up till he has the exact color the customer is looking for. He can match anything”.
He continued: “So, when you ask what sets us apart, I would say we really care about the customer’s experience here. We have great selection and good prices, but that isn’t what keeps them coming back. They get expert advice, they leave with everything they need, they can call and ask questions, it’s like we partner with them to get their projects done and get them done right. We want to keep business local, so residents of Guilford and the surrounding towns do not have to drive to Bangor to get what they need. But we also want to give them the best service, so they shop here because they WANT to, not just because it’s convenient.”
It was easy, after this conversation, to understand why the man I met outside would drive from Greenville to Guilford, even though there are hardware stores in Greenville, and why he would leave with such a huge smile on his face.
Yes, it may be just a hardware store. But I am blogging about Lovell’s Guilford Hardware because I absolutely love it when a business really cares about their customers, when the employees are knowledgeable and friendly, and when customers walk out totally satisfied. These are the types of businesses that make Piscataquis County great.
Until next time, thank you for taking a Peek into Piscataquis!