Proprietors determined to reopen damaged Belfast business

Goose River Grocery’s barbecue plans on, despite fire

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 1:45pm

Story Location:
77 Swan Lake Avenue
Belfast, ME 04915
United States

    BELFAST - Kyle and Helen Skinner had already planned two weekends of barbecues at Goose River Grocery in August when a fire forced them to close the store earlier this month. On Friday, Kyle acknowledged the irony. Someone had already made a comment to him about the goose being cooked.

    “Y’know, it’s funny, but it’s not,” he said.

    In the end, Skinner said they’ve decided to go ahead with the barbecues, which will be held over the next two weekends. These will be held on the grounds outside the store, an area that Skinner thinks has more potential that past owners have recognized.

    The couple took a similar view of the store. Recently, they had repainted the exterior of the building, added a take-out window, built new counters inside the store and made changes to kitchen, including a shift in the menu away from greasy dishes. Skinner said he recently put in an application to the USDA that would allow the store to accept food stamps. He converted a back room of the store to sell firearms, for which he’d received the necessary federal license. On the day of the fire, he and Helen had been putting up signs to advertise their first shipment of hard ice cream.

    “Last week, both my wife and I were sick to our stomachs over it,” he said. “Here we are trying to do these things to promote the business, and then this happens.” 

    The Skinners don’t own the property, but have a purchase and sale agreement, and had been finalizing details in advance of the closing. Kyle said the fire didn’t change any of that. His grandmother, mother and several aunts had all worked at the store at various times, and he professed a strong emotional connection to the place. His wife teased him, he said, because he ate lunch at there every day.

    “It was important for me to see it thrive, and I was confident we could turn it around,” he said. “We were planning on bringing it back to life, and we’re still going to do that.”

    A week after the fire, Skinner said he hadn’t received word on the cause, which is being investigated by the state Fire Marshal’s Office. Belfast Fire Chief Jim Richards initially guessed that it started in the kitchen, based on the amount of damage there. Wherever it started, Skinner figured the combination of old wood and an accumulation of cooking grease from the 40-year-old business probably made things worse.

    “It’s definitely gutted to the roof in [the back] half of the store,” he said. “As we’ve had rain, rain is running into the building at this point.”

    Damage in the front of the store was mostly from heat. “It melted all the equipment,” he said. A slush puppy machine, a Pepsi cooler, an ice cream machine and the iPad that served as a cash register were among the big pieces lost. All the inventory in the store was destroyed, he said.

    Skinner listed the damages in a matter-of-fact way that suggested he was more interested in looking ahead. Rebuilding estimates were in the works. And in the meantime, there were two weekends of barbecues to prepare for.

    He’d already ordered the meat. A friend was bringing a smoker up from Delaware. Skinner put in a call to the lawn mowing service. He wanted to make sure Goose River Grocery was still on the list. 

    Barbecue comes to Goose River Grocery August 2-3, and again August 8-9. The cost is $10 per plate, and includes pulled pork or chicken, sides and a drink. 

    Ethan Andrews can be reached at