SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Seventy years ago, Ronald and Ava Gott, along with Ava’s sister, Fern, and her husband, Johnny Leonard, opened a small store in Southwest Harbor just across the Bass Harbor Marsh from the Tremont town line.
Those founders of what is now Gott’s Store probably wouldn’t recognize the thriving business their little enterprise has become. Even more surprising is the fact that the store is still a family business. And, if the current owners have anything to say about that, it will stay that way.
“Absolutely, that’s the goal,” Jenn Gray said. “We’d like it to stay in the family.”
Gray, her father, Tim Gott, and uncle Carroll Lunt bought the store in 2008 from Ronald “Sarge” Gott, his wife, Barbara “Blondie” Gott, and Lunt’s mother, Hazel Lunt. Gray is the fourth generation, and Gott and Lunt the third generation to own the business. Sarge has passed away, but Blondie and Hazel continue to keep busy working at the store.
Gray has two girls, ages 10 and eight, and a five-year-old boy.
“They all hang out in the store,” she said.
Lunt recalls his own childhood reading comic books in a back storage area, where sometimes his grandfather would mistakenly lock him in.
“I was a quiet child,” he explained.
The store opened Oct. 8, 1944, selling groceries and beer. The latter was especially popular with many of the Tremont residents – their town was dry, no alcohol sales allowed. Outside Leonard and Gott, as the store was first known, was a single gas pump.
The store was a limited success. After a few years of operation, the founders decided that there wasn’t enough business to support two families and the Leonards pulled out, leaving the store to the Gotts. They changed the name to the Ronald W. Gott Store.
The Gotts expanded the building, adding the first of an estimated dozen additions to the structure. And they adapted to changing customer demands. They installed an outside ramp for performing oil changes on vehicles and even tried their hand at selling used cars.
By the time the second generation took over the business in 1986, the car repair and used car sales were long gone. The renamed Gott’s Store Inc. would see other changes before the current owners took over.
“We become less of a grocery store and more of a food service business every year,” Lunt said. He attributes the growth in prepared foods, like pizza and subs, to the fact that families, especially those with children, keep busy schedules and don’t always have the time to cook for themselves. Another reason, he said, is that Gott’s is a place to get good food at reasonable prices.
The store employs an average of 20 people, more in the summer, fewer in the winter, Lunt said.
Until recently, the store was open 24 hours a day. The owners and their employees aren’t slacking off, however. The store opens at 2:30 a.m. and closes “when I feel like it,” said Lunt. The sign on the door, he adds, says 11 p.m.
Earlier this year, the Mohawk Arts Collective, an arts and performance group in Tremont, did a video commercial about Gott’s Store. It has been viewed more than 9,000 times. It can be found on YouTube.