On the theory that high gasoline prices might inspire River Valley shoppers to spend their money here, I did a little research on the matter. It seems, though too early to say with certainty, that River Valley retail sales are way ahead of last year’s.

Any time I can spend in a book store is a good time. It was no different when one day last week I stopped in at Millview Books. I’d hoped to catch owners Daniel and Ramala Sirois. I was in luck: they were there and glad to talk with me about their enterprise. We hadn’t been chatting for more than five minutes when Daniel’s sisters breezed in from Lewiston. The Sirois siblings and their brother grew up in Roxbury Pond where their parents, Gilman and Gloria live still.

Running a book store probably won’t make you rich – “You have to love books. … and sacrifice.” Daniel loves books all right: His first book is near publication. He also loves travel and has managed to do a good deal of it. Costa Rica, Nova Scotia. Most all of the USA. And the Maldives: Most important of all, because it was there he met Ramala. They have been married three years.

The book store Daniel opened “the day after Thanksgiving in 2001” has expanded and diversified its merchandise to include Maine-made products and books by Mainers and about Mainers. Book signings (Burt deFrees reads and signs Saturday, Dec. 22) bring in a lot of traffic and a lot of sales.

Millview’s season got off to a slow start, but as sister Kathy remarked: “Snow puts you in the mood for shopping.”

Fonda Davenport concurs. Labonville’s is selling lots of coats and boots because “…there’s snow this year.” Labonville’s has been in the River Valley for many, many decades now. Its five outlets (Farmington, Madison, Gorham, Conway, and Mexico) are operated by Richard Labonville.

Most River Valley merchants are enjoying a better Christmas season than last.

“It’s definitely better,” said John Bartash and, he added, “last year’s sales weren’t exactly terrible.”

Fonda Davenport observed that people “…seem to be sticking to the necessities” – warm coats and boots. Makes sense when you consider consider gas and heating fuel prices this year.

But at Christmas necessity can take on new meaning: “I really need that painting at Pennacook Art Center.” (The center is open till 12/31, remember.) That home truth may explain why the smart new silver jewelry at Bartash’s is moving very well.

It’s fun to think about all the years, the people, and goods and services that have passed under the roof of the old Bartash pharmacy, even – pre-Bartash – bootleg whiskey from a tap at the long-gone soda fountain. Today, where once his father filled prescriptions, Jay Bartash is doing a very brisk business in framing.

For those who want for nothing – meaning they have all they need and more, or, they haven’t got a wish list – give their names to one of the many River Valley helping organizations.

So shop the River Valley this season. Save gas money. Yes. Help the local economy. Yes. But best of all, meet and greet friends and neighbors wherever they share in and spread Christmas cheer.

Linda Farr Macgregor lives in Rumford with her husband, Jim. She is a freelance writer and author of Rumford Stories. Contact her: [email protected]

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