Landmark Bath general store marks 200 years and counting, growing
BATH -- To find their happiness, Nancy and Mike Lusby took the converse of Horace Greeley's famous advice and, in 1992, came east to this small town of just over 1,000 residents where they own, operate and live in one of the oldest, continually run general stores in America.
On the National Register of Historic Places, The Brick Store has been in business since at least 1790, staying open even when the original structure burned down in 1824 and remaining open in modern times despite a still sluggish economy and more recently, the closure of the Bath Village Bridge, which is a major east-west connector over the Ammonoosuc River.
She and her husband, Lusby said recently, take everything in stride and have no regrets about giving up life in the fast lane of California's Bay Area.
"We were just looking for a change," said Lusby, who was working in the administration of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., while Mike had been a vice president at a Silicon Valley company that provided support services for software and high-tech firms.
"He happened to be between jobs, and the kids were growing up, and we were tired of the rat race and the crime and decided that if we were ever going to make a change it was then or never," Lusby said.
The Lusbys thought about "what kind of business we would like to be in," she continued, "and we saw The Brick Store for sale in a magazine and said 'that would be an interesting way to make a living.'"
Without any connections to Bath or New Hampshire, the Lusbys took a chance and came to check out The Brick Store. Returning to California, they searched in 13 other states for a similar opportunity, and quickly realized that the future they wanted was here.
"We just thought 'why not, let's go for it," said Lusby, who recalled that she had "an ace in the hole" in that her employer was willing to give her a year's absence. The Lusbys and their three children relocated to Bath and have never looked back, although they still occasionally return to the West Coast to visit family.
Open every day of the year except Christmas, The Brick Store is a true family affair. Nancy and Mike are the proprietors and are assisted by their son, Michael, and daughters Mindy and Shannyn. Jim Lusby, who is Mike's brother, is the general manager, and he also runs the smoke house significantly.
"Thank goodness for our online business, which has gotten us through this because a lot of our customers live on the other side of the bridge and have to drive to Woodsville or Lisbon to come here, and if they have to drive to those places - why come here? - so it's been tough."
When they do come, the locals seek a variety of things and The Brick Store, true to its general-store heritage, has a little bit of everything.
"We serve the community with groceries, gas, beer and we do OHRV (off highway recreational vehicle) registrations.
"You can drop off your UPS package or dry cleaning here, and we also sell lottery tickets," said Lusby, who, when not making fudge, is baking up a storm using locally sourced ingredients to make her much-in-demand buttermilk donuts.
Lusby wasn't able to quantify how much of The Brick Store's sales come from the Internet versus walk-ins, but said the latter was very significant.
"It's hard to say because it varies so much by season. Foliage season is by far our busiest, and we get dozens of busloads of people a day, 300 to 400 buses during the season."
"We meet lots of interesting people," Lusby said.
"We can have nice visits with local people, and the next moment someone from Australia or Ireland comes in."