SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Al Michaud won a Yeti cooler in a raffle last week at Gott’s Store during a celebration of the store’s 75th anniversary.
Wednesday morning, sitting with five neighbors enjoying coffee in the newest addition to the store, Michaud joked about what could be put in the cooler.
Daylight had not yet broken, but coffee was flowing and customers bantered.
“You never know what you’re going to get nailed with when you come through the door,” said Michaud, after the group offered a pile of colorful comments about one of the local septic pumping business owners.
It was just another day at the family-owned island institution opened by Ava and Ronald Gott on October 8, 1944.
“I remember coming in here as a kid, I was three or four years old,” said Norm Closson, of Tremont, adding that he recently turned 72.
He doesn’t get too far into a story about Charlie Sawyer delivering fish before someone chides him about his age. Another mentions Sawyer always having lollipops, a strong memory for any child.
Several other names from days past get ping-ponged around the group.
“We don’t talk about [national] politics very often,” said Wid Minctons, who makes Gott’s a regular stop in his morning routine. “But town politics we talk a lot about.”
Doors to the store open at 3:30 a.m. for fishermen who need to grab lunch, supplies and coffee before going out on the water. Until a few years ago the store was open 24 hours a day.
“When I started here I knew nothing about the store business,” said Jenn Gray, Ava and Ronald’s great-granddaughter and one of the owners of the store. “It was open 24 hours at that time.”
Gray has managed the store for 11 years and talks about her aunt, Hazel Lunt, who is 80 years old and only recently stopped working in the store.
“Not by choice,” Gray noted.
“If she could, she would still be in here. I liked that it was always in the family.”
She is the fourth generation to own the business.
In 2008, Gray, her father, Tim Gott, and uncle Carroll Lunt Jr. bought the store from Ronald “Sarge” Gott, his wife, Barbara “Blondie” Gott, and Lunt’s mother Hazel. That group had bought the store from Ronald and Ava.
Stan Gott, Hazel’s brother, was two years old when his parents decided to open the store.
There were residents of Bass Harbor, but they chose to open the store in Southwest Harbor.
“The reason it’s here, rather than in Bass Harbor was because Bass Harbor was a dry town, they couldn’t sell beer,” said Gott. “But they all walked over here to get it.”
Originally, they built a small building, a 144-square-foot structure he recalled, with one gas pump outside.
“We’ve put on pieces and pieces and pieces,” said Gray about the multiple additions to the store, including a kitchen, ice cream window and a family home turned into employee housing on the premises.
“It just kind of expanded a little more each year.”
At this point, it’s one of the oldest businesses on Mount Desert Island. But in it’s early years, longevity of the business was not a sure thing.
“If it hadn’t been for Dad trapping beaver and Mother working the sardine factory, this store wouldn’t be here today,” said Stan Gott about his parents working part-time outside owning the store.
“Mom said they used to count the money on Sunday night to see if they had enough to open up on Monday morning. Some days gross sales was nine dollars.”
Back then a bag of groceries was $10, he added. For most of the 75 years of operation the store has been open seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“We didn’t close for anything,” said Gott. “Mom walked over here, we lived in Bass Harbor, probably two miles away. She walked over one day on snowshoes to open it up thinking somebody may need gas.
“Their work ethic was unbelievable,” he added, “and the way they treated customers.”
Employee Linda McEnroe says that is a trait passed down through the generations and a big reason why Gott’s is such a regular stop for so many locals.
“Our customers are definitely a highlight,” said McEnroe. “I look forward to seeing them every morning. You get worried if they don’t show up … This is definitely a little piece of history for the town.”