AUBURN — The Hostess Bakery Outlet store on Minot Avenue is like the "Cheers" of the baked-goods world. Everybody seems to know everybody else and the conversation is always lively.
On Friday, though, it was more sorrow than celebration. With news that Hostess would close for good, hundreds visited the store to fill their shopping carts and to say goodbye.
"We've been coming here for years," said Rhonda Rackliffe of Minot. "I think this is really sad. Right now, in this economy, people need retail stores. I hate to see it close."
All day Friday, it was a steady stream of business. And just about everyone who walked through the door had a kind word — or words of encouragement — for the ladies working the cash register.
"Goodbye, Jamie," they said. "We'll miss you."
Or, "Good luck, Claire. Thanks for everything."
The ladies are Claire Patry and Jamie Pelletier. If the news from Hostess was grim for the people who buy their products, it was doubly so for this pair of women. Jamie said her customers have become like family. And Claire has worked for the company for nearly four decades.
Still, they slapped on smiles and greeted customers warmly. They listened to the lamentations of their regulars for just about the entire day.
"People are very sad," Pelletier said.
"Some of them didn't even know this was happening," Patry said. "They came in and asked why our shelves are so empty."
Parts of the outlet store looked like a place that had been looted. There wasn't a single loaf of Red Line Bread to be found. Several stretches of shelving that had held the popular, 99-cent loaves were completely bare.
But the most targeted item of all, the two women agreed, was the Twinkies. Some people just wanted to get them while they were still available. Others had learned that boxes of Twinkies were already selling for as much as $60 on eBay.
Melody Stevens of Poland said she wasn't sad about the suddenly finite supply of Twinkies. "But my boss is," she said. "He's practically crying over this."
New customers just kept coming. One woman filled an entire cart with Donettes, Glo Balls, Coffee Cakes and Sno Balls. A man who came into the store alone grabbed as many boxes of Glo Balls, Brownie Bites and Mini-Muffins as he could carry and then wrestled them to the counter.
"How you doing, Claire?" he asked.
"Well, I've been lots better."
Right up until closing time, 6 p.m., the two women stayed at their posts. Their futures are uncertain now, but at least they have a few days to get used to the idea. The shelves will get restocked and the store is expected to keep selling its goods into Wednesday of next week. Prices will be slashed, Patry said, and there will probably be "buy-one-get-one-free" deals to be had.