Center of Community
General and country stores of yesteryear served as the center of their communities. Townspeople would review public documents and debate them, send and receive mail, and host coffee and lunch groups when gossip and more important matters were discussed. According to Alan Lockyer, who wrote Clamdiggers and Downeast Country Stores, country or general stores allow people to discover the character of the place they are visiting, permitting them to reflect not only on the geographic surrounding of their present location, but also the townspeople who work the lands, lakes and seas.
Today, country or general stores are few and far between. As more roads and modes of transportation have improved, the distance between towns have dissipated with time, lessening the need for general stores. Lawrence Salisbury, the oldest resident in the area who frequents the OGS regularly, told me that before the State of Maine extended Route 180 to Route 9, the way to Bangor from Otis involved travelling 11 miles south to Ellsworth before taking the Bangor Road north 39 miles. Today, there are two routes to Bangor from Otis that require less than half that distance and about one-third of the time.
The Otis General Store, however, remains a throwback in time when "central place theory" dictated where stores were opened based on the distribution of human and natural resources. The OGS was able to overcome the fate of many other country and general stores in Maine that were turned into convenience stores, then antique showplaces, and finally abandoned. The OGS has its coffee crew of retired gentleman who solve the world's most pressing problems every morning. It still serves as the town's post office where mail is sent and received. And both Otis and Mariaville are required to post all town proposals and warrants at the OGS prior to taking up discussion.
Despite the size of our towns, Mariaville and Otis voted to maintain their own school where pre-kindergarten to eighth grade is taught. The Beech Hill School serves about 90 students from Otis and Mariaville, including those with special needs. Just last year, the towns of Otis and Mariaville voted for and approved a new firehouse, currently being built on the town line. The volunteer fire fighters of Mariaville helped save the OGS on June 13, 2018 when it and the Ellsworth fire department barely saved the store from a devastating fire.
Visitors who happen by the store see local businesses in the construction, groundwork and wood cutting industries frequenting the store on a daily basis. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters working in the area eat lunch and pick up their libations after work. Teachers and students can be seen in the store throughout the school year. The OGS also serves as a tagging agent during turkey, bear, and deer seasons, which bring in many local hunters. And out-of-staters and Mainers who have camps along the many waterways in the area dominate the store during the summer months.
While online retailers wreak havoc with brick and mortar retail chains, the OGS functions as a general store that serves a community with many traditional roles that keep our clientele coming back.