CANDIA — For the last 26 years, Marie and Roy Martel have spent seven days a week, 364½ days a year, at the Candia General Store.
They’ve managed the store as a team, each feeding off the other’s strengths, often finishing the other’s sentences, and each going out of his or her way to accommodate residents, whether it is leaving cough medicine on the doorstep in the middle of the night for a sick child down the road or by filling a gas canister and delivering it to a stranded motorist.
Marie Martel took photos of children in Halloween costumes years ago and now snaps pictures of their kids. The Martels have always welcomed guests — young and old — to their store. And that’s what it remains today: a true mom-and-pop establishment, a reminder of days gone by, and a model for resiliency.
The store, the Martels’ lifeblood, was gutted by an electrical fire Nov. 19. Yet on July 24, eight months and five days after the fire, they reopened the historic fixture to the public.
“It wasn’t a question,” said Roy Martel. “It’s an old store. It’s part of the town. It’s part of Candia, you know. There’s a lot of people who feel close to this store. I had to open it back up to preserve old Candia.
“Otherwise, we’d have a Dunkin’ Donuts here,” he quickly added.
Roy Martel’s quip wasn’t entirely a laughing matter. Even in his store’s refurbished state, it remains a blast from the past, from its hardwood floors to the table and chairs sitting by the front window. And while watching a storm of corporate stores move into nearby towns and flood out other locally-owned operations, the Martels have vowed to hold their roots.
“This is Candia. This is part of Candia ... This used to be the center of (Candia) Village,” said Marie Martel. “I think, other than Mobil ... as a continuous store, we’re the oldest store in town.”
That doesn’t mean times are easy. Even before the fire, the Martels admit the store was struggling. One week after reopening, Roy Martel said business remained slow.
“This is a low point for us now, and before we had the fire it was a low point. Nothing’s changed,” he said. “We’re reopened, but we’ve seen a lot of changes to the neighborhood. A lot of people have moved and their taxes have gone up ... Irving hurt us an awful lot. It hurt every business in town.”
“I still think it has a lot to do with the economy,” said Marie Martel. “I just don’t think the economy is where it should be yet. People are still hurting for money in a lot of ways. If the economy were more stable, I think we would do a better business ... We were incredibly busy when we first bought this place in 1988.”Still, the Martels said the outpouring of encouragement and financial support has been overwhelming since the fire, and now that the store has reopened, they say a steady flow of neighbors and friends have stopped by, all providing similarly positive feedback.
Gayle McDonald said she’s been a customer at Candia General Store for more than a decade, often swinging by for Marie Martel’s famous baked beans, and other times simply poking her head in for the good company and conversation.
“The place is gorgeous. It’s just beautiful, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that Marie and her husband are back,” said McDonald. “We did not want to lose her.”
As to the future of the store, the Martels said they’re going to keep fighting and continue to offer customers a unique small town experience.
“I’m going to keep it going. It has to turn around at some point,” said Roy Martel. “You know, I go out of my way to get anything for anybody.”
“We’re slowly going to make a few different changes,” said Marie Martel. “We were always original, we’ve always gone our own way, and that’s what we’re still going to try and do.”
“It was a very tough eight months,” said added. “We felt obligated to the people to reopen. It’s a part of Candia. We didn’t want to see that lost for them ... they’re our family.”