SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Even though it is winter, the quiet season here, there is one storefront that usually has their lights on this time of year, Sawyer’s Market on Main Street. However, this week the lights have remained off.
“Seeing the store dark like that is sort of shocking,” said Kristin Hutchins who serves on the board of selectmen and grew up in Southwest Harbor. “I certainly remember buying candy bars from Brian (as a child).”
Brian Worcester, who owns Sawyer’s Market, grew up working in the downtown specialty grocery store and has been there for the last 60 years.
While Brian has been trying to find the right person to take over the business for the last couple of years, according to Scott Worcester, who owns Sawyer’s Specialties across the street and is Brian’s brother, a recent furnace mishap moved up the plans to sell.
In late January, during the evening hours while the store was unattended, the building’s furnace malfunctioned and covered the store with soot.
“Anything that wasn’t totally sealed had to be thrown away,” said Scott. There was a significant amount of inventory lost. “Everything else had to be wiped down by hand,” Scott added.
Unfortunately, the incident was the proverbial last straw for Brian. Realtor signs were put in the windows of the store over the weekend, making it official that a new owner is being sought. When the Islander reached out to Brian, he said the changes are tragic for him and he was having a difficult time talking about it.
His father, Donald Worcester, purchased the store from the original owner, Ralph Sawyer, in 1959. Donald had worked for Sawyer when the store opened and moved on to doing traveling sales.
Scott worked at the market as a teen along with his two sisters.
According to family lore, their father was offered the store by Sawyer or he was going to shutter it. Donald, who was in the market for a new car, went out to look for a family vehicle and came home with a new business instead.
“It was very much a family business,” said Scott in an interview with the Islander. “There were multi-generations going on there for quite some time.
“I never thought I would see ‘For Sale’ signs in the window there,” he added, “but I do now.”
At this time, the future of the store space, more than 2,000 square feet of it, is unclear.
“I’m hopeful that someone will come along who can continue to run it as a grocery store,” said Scott. “I feel that store is a vital part of downtown Southwest Harbor.”
That sentiment was echoed by several residents in town at the beginning of the week as reality set in with For Sale signs, empty shelves and a dark store telling the story.
“You don’t realize you rely on it until it’s missing,” said Kate Henry who has lived here since 1972. “My love of Southwest Harbor is the feel of close community and being able to be in town and get my needs met. Sawyer’s is a place I go to get my needs met … You never dreamed it would be gone.”
While the store may have been a regular stop for many year-round residents of Southwest Harbor, for much of its life it has been a favorite of summer residents. Before there was a ‘to go’ option with some of the larger chain grocery stores, Sawyer’s Market was making deliveries to seasonal residents and those living on their boats at the local wharfs and marinas.
“It’s been a staple,” said Ingrid Kachmar who grew up in Southwest Harbor and works at Harbor House. “I think the community has really felt the loss of it the last couple of weeks. You take these things for granted … It’ll be a huge void, especially come summertime.”
Diana Novella also works at Harbor House and has lived in Southwest Harbor for many years. When it was open, she often stopped by Sawyer’s Market to grab lunch or provisions for a meal at home.
“It’s just sad,” she said on Tuesday. “You hate to see something that’s been part of the community so long being gone.”