WEST PARIS — Hundreds of people turned out Friday in just the first few hours of the three-day going-out-of-business sale at Perham’s of West Paris gem store on Route 26.

In a sometimes carnival atmosphere, people from as far away as Florida parked their cars along routes 26 and 219 starting at 8 a.m. to get in line for the 9 a.m. opening. Some took pictures of family members in front of Perham’s sign, others walked their dogs, while most just chatted about what Perham’s has meant to them over the years and waited patiently for their turn to be let in the side door to shop.

“I stood in line for two hours,” said Randall Withee, a resident of Gainesville, Fla., who was passing out brochures to next weekend’s Western Maine Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show at the Telstar High School in Bethel. “It’s a madhouse.”

Store owner Jane Perham made the decision to shut down the family-owned business opened by her father, Stanley, in 1919. She cited the economy, difficulties in the gem market and the slowdown of tourism in Western Maine.
In addition to the store, the business includes a museum of gems, which will be given to a private local party, and quarries that have been popular hunting spots for visitors for decades.

It is not known yet whether the quarries, some of which have been opened for public access, will remain open.

“We’ve known them for 30 years. We’re miners. They taught us how to mine,” said Lorraine Clukey of Poland as she waited in the back of the long line early Friday morning.

While there was a lot of good cheer among those in line, it was also a very somber moment for many who have spent years mining in the Perhams’ mines.

“It’s so sad,” one customer was heard saying. Several were overheard talking about what a surprise the closure was.

Wade Rainey and Diane Holt of the nearby Western Foothills Benches at routes 26 and 219 caught on early that they could make a buck, too. Rainey simply set up a sign at his parking lot entrance and charged $3 for noncustomer parking after scores of cars tried to park there without asking. Only a few declined, including a man who decided it was easier to park up the hill on Route 219, but probably decided it wasn’t such a good idea as he trudged back up the hill on his way back to his car.

Mike Mentus of Paris decided he couldn’t fight the crowds, so his wife shopped in the crowded two-room store filled with wall-to-wall shoppers, some seen spending as much as $1,000.

“I gave her my credit card and said, ‘Go to it,’” he said as he lay on a hill overlooking the crowds.
The shopping spree was spurred by he and his wife Karen’s sixth anniversary. Although he usually picks out something for her, Mentus suggested they go to Perham’s to buy something together. But when he got caught in the crunch of the crowds, Mentus decided to come outside. “I came out here to camp,” he said as he lay peacefully in the grass.

Although Jane Perham was too busy to speak, her friend Veronica Coland said Perham was simply taken aback by the crowds that grew larger as the day went on.
“She figured there would be 15 people. She’s overwhelmed,” said Coland, who came to shop and ended up getting behind the counter with eight other friends and family members to wait on shoppers.

“I’m coming back,” one brave shopper said as she left the store.

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