LEWISTON – In the old days, Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan and Sun Journal sportswriter Norm Thomas would debate the merits of the Beantown bumblers, with local politician Val Tardif throwing in his two cents’ worth.

The threesome was a fixture at Victor News, as dependable as the daily delivery of the New York Times.

“They’d just hang out, talking about sports … talking about everything,” said Phil St. Pierre Sr., who started working in the downtown landmark almost 70 years ago.

The store, in its fourth generation of family ownership, still serves as a gathering spot for locals, still sells the New York Times. And about 3,000 other items.

Next Saturday marks its 100th anniversary since the day it was founded by Victor L’Heureux, the store’s namesake and uncle to St. Pierre. The mom-and-pop operation has survived the Depression, numerous recessions, changing demographics and even urban renewal – due in no small part to familial pluck.

“Victor was a remarkable person,” said St. Pierre. The Turner native started a store in Lisbon and slept in a big drawer every night, then walked home to Turner on the weekends.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” said St. Pierre.

The original Victor News was located directly across from the Empire Theater on Main Street. It sold tobacco products, newspapers and magazines.

The business did well enough for L’Heureux to open a second store on Ash Street with partner Elisee Levesque, in what had been McCarthy’s market.

“McCarthy’s was a big hangout for the Irish,” said St. Pierre. “There were all kinds of clubs there and politicians hanging around.

“When we took over, they just kept coming,” said St. Pierre with a chuckle. “It didn’t matter that two Frenchmen had bought the place.”

The Ash Street location was so busy the Main Street store was closed. Then St. Pierre’s father began working for Victor, and within a few years, his teenage son joined them.

“It was during the Depression and Dad was having a hard time with six children,” said St. Pierre. “I wanted to help out.”

At 14, St. Pierre ran errands such as picking up the daily delivery of papers at the bus station. There was always plenty of work, since the store was open to accommodate all three shifts of workers at the local mills.

He remembers working one Sunday night – the store full of Irish and French men standing around gabbing – when the radio crackled the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Everyone huddled around the radio,” said St. Pierre. “It got real quiet.”

The attack prompted St. Pierre to join the Marines. It was during the war that St. Pierre’s father bought out L’Heureux’s interest in the store; in 1950, the younger St. Pierre bought out Levesque’s. That year, the St. Pierres moved the store from 36 Ash St. to 50 Ash. The father and son team ran the store for years, bringing in new products and services, such as Western Union telegram, but never abandoning its news roots.

The entire right wall of the Ash Street store was lined with shelves to display thousands of magazine and book titles. St. Pierre said that when the weekly delivery of LOOK magazine arrived, he wrote the name of each of the 150 people who reserved a copy on the cover.

“The newspapers and the magazines were always a big draw for us,” said St. Pierre. The reserved list read “like a Who’s Who of Lewiston-Auburn then.”

The store continued serving its customers from Ash Street until urban renewal came into vogue in the 1960s. A municipal plan called for razing the block of stores that at that time faced today’s Post Office to make way for parking. St. Pierre fought the plan with several other downtown businessmen. Although he ultimately lost the location to eminent domain, he did succeed in winning a lawsuit that forced the city to pay him twice what it initially offered.

In 1971 the store moved to its current location on Park Street. Two years earlier, the fourth generation of St. Pierres joined the family business, following in his father’s footsteps.

Like his dad, Philip R. St. Pierre joined Victor News at age 14, stocking shelves and setting up news displays. His father promised him if he did a good job and stuck with the business, it would be his one day – a promise L’Heureux had made to the elder St. Pierre about 40 years earlier.

Today, Phil and his wife, Nancy, run the store, proud to be carrying on the tradition. Although all the back office functions are modern, they intentionally keep that old-time general store feeling. Bright-red price stickers adorn each product, and items are tallied – not scanned – at the register. Shoppers can find sewing notions next to reading glasses, hiking maps next to Beefaroni, rabbit food next to coloring books.

Although times have changed (the store once had a reserve list for 150 New York Times per day; now it’s 20), the St. Pierres say giving the customer what he or she wants is still the priority. They are celebrating the store’s 100th anniversary Saturday, June 3, with hundreds of giveaways, a raffle, games and in-store specials.

“We have very loyal customers. … That’s why we’re open on holidays and Sundays,” said the younger St. Pierre. “We’re going to be there for our customers. It’s been handed down through the generations.”

Will the store be passed to a fifth generation? Phil and Nancy say their daughters aren’t interested in the family business, but there’s still hope.

“We’re expecting our first grandchild soon,” said Nancy, beaming and crossing her fingers. “So there’s still a chance.”


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