SWANVILLE—A beloved grocery store has been rebuilt after a car accident severely damaged the property nearly five months ago. On March 3, Swan Lake Grocery opened its doors once again to the public.
On October 6, 2020, Deb and Rob Newcomb, owners of Swan Lake Grocery, were asleep in their house when Deb’s phone alerted her to a message. The person on the other end was their tenant and some terrible news. A man had crashed his car into the middle of the store, setting his car, and part of the building on fire.
The man did not survive and the entire building sustained extensive fire, smoke, and water damage. As a result, the three-story, 9,000-square-foot building had to be torn down to the timbers.
For Rob, this tragic incident had multiple repercussions. Not only did a man lose his life, he and Deb lost their business, which Rob had owned and operated for 44 years. And the community also lost its valued grocery store in the middle of a pandemic.
“The local people had to drive to Northport, Belfast, or Searsport after that to get their groceries,” said Deb. “Their hearts went out to us over the tragedy of the young man who died at the scene and they wanted to help. Whatever we needed, they were willing to give. We had customers come in with pennies in their pockets to give to us as well as checks in the mail.”
One hundred percent of the rebuild was covered by insurance, including the staff salaries.
“We decided we had great insurance, so we took their donations and gave it back to the community soup kitchen instead,” said Deb.
The store looks almost exactly the same. “We had such a tight timetable and due to COVID-19 virus, getting equipment was an issue we didn’t have time to look at a re-design, so the entire store looks as it did before,” said Rob.
On opening day, many customers came in to admire the new store, which included a bigger produce section, all new fixtures, and a new color scheme. “We were able to offer more shelving with a larger presentation of groceries,” said Deb. With a tight community such as this, many came up to the couple as they worked to express how happy they were the store was back.
The Newcombs said they plan to run it one more year and sell it, which was Rob’s retirement plan all along.
“I could’ve retired and taken the insurance money, but, but after having gone through this, I knew the community needed this store back.”
The original building has been at this site since the late 1800s, according to Rob, who said it was once also a post office. He had worked at this store since he was 12-years-old and purchased it in 1977 when he was 19-years-old.
“We’ve been married 22 years, running this place together,” said Deb. “Rob and his first wife, Linda, who’s wonderful, bought this store when he was just a kid, so you talk about an emotional roller coaster ride this has been.”
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org