NORWAY — About 15 years ago, some 20 second-grade students from Guy E. Rowe School on Main Street walked up the wooden steps and through the old wooden doors of the L.M. Longley & Son hardware store for a tour by owner John M. Longley.

On the main floor, they saw wooden clothes racks, metal sap buckets, nails of all types and other merchandise on shelves and hanging from the walls. Downstairs in the plumbing shop, Longley fired up a pipe-threading machine so they could hear the loud whir.

Longley, whose father and grandfather had operated the store at 419 Main St., also took them to the back of the basement to see antique tools, to the former horse and carriage barn, where stove parts were stored, and the back loading dock.

“This is the best tour ever,” one student shouted.

The experience will probably not be repeated.

According to a front page ad in the Advertiser Democrat on Nov. 12, L.M. Longley & Son announced the retirement of John Longley.


“We would like to thank the generations of clients we have served for over 114 years,” it said.

The future of the building in the heart of the downtown National Historic District remains unknown.

“It was always clear to me that John (Longley) cared greatly about Norway,” Town Manager David Holt said.

He and Tom Denison are trustees of the Higgins-Crooker Trust, which owns the building next door, 100 Aker Wood Frame Shop, and a large home on Deering Street.

The Attorney General’s Office and the Probate Court have been asked to dissolve the Higgins-Crooker Trust. Once that is done, the properties will be owned by the town and sold, Holt said.

The residential and commercial plumbing, heating and sheet metal fabrication business are owned by L.M. Longley & Son and will be sold by the family.


Holt said he has known the Longleys for many years. He grew up on a farm in Greenwood operated by his uncle and aunt and parents.

“They always said you can get what you want at Longley’s,” Holt said.

His aunt would buy buckskin gloves and cookware at the store. His uncle would purchase Christmas presents.

“Longley’s business was his family and Norway was his home and John was fiercely loyal to both,” Holt said. “In fact, to me, John represents what is Norway at its core . . . dependable, not flashy, painfully honest and stubborn about the things that matter. Most of us in town know that John is Longley’s. I might go so far as to say that John is Norway.”

A 171-year history

The story of L.M. Longley & Son hardware store began July 12, 1844, when the Norway Advertiser announced the opening of Thomas Higgins’ new hardware store on Main Street. The building was replaced in 1867 by the three-story brick building that stands today. At that time, Higgins took on a partner, James Crooker.


In 1894, a fire destroyed 90 buildings in the eastern section of Main Street. The hardware store, which then housed the town’s library on the second floor, was spared. At the time, it was being operated by Higgins and Crooker.

In 1902, Leon M. Longley, who had attended business school in Portland and the Springfield Technical Institute before coming to Norway in 1899, bought out a small hardware store on Cottage Street with Ralph Butts. In 1913, he moved his business into the brick building on Main Street and the Longley legacy began.

By 1920, Leon’s son, Forrest Longley, had joined the business, which was called L.M. Longley & Son. The father and son ran it until Leon’s death in 1951.

In 1960, after schooling, military and industry experience, John joined the plumbing, heating and hardware business and the father/son team worked together until Forrest died in 1988.

The business was known near and far.

“He made it work,” said U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, when she toured the downtown historic district in 2008.


“It’s a great store. That’s what we lose when the big stores come in,” she said. “It’s grassroots. They stick to the core beliefs and standards and they’ve done well.

“We should take all the guys off Wall Street and bring them up here and remind them of basic values,” she told John Longley and his employees during the visit.

A sense of history, common sense, humility and helping your neighbors — all are attributes that are important to people in Norway and attributes that John Longley exhibits, Town Manager David Holt said.

He and many others can tell stories of how John Longley helped local families when their pipes froze in the middle of winter or their water pipes leaked.

“It’s been my home,” said Don Young, 71, who has worked in the plumbing department for the past 48 years. “I know every inch of this store.”

He got the job while traveling around the world with the Navy in 1967. His mother called on Forrest Longley and asked him if there was a job for her son, who was a plumbing apprentice in the U.S. Navy. Forrest Longley, who did not know Don, held the job for him for three months until he returned to Maine.


Young has been behind the antique wooden filing cabinet counter in the cellar with two barely visible tip-out windows and a mummified dead rat hanging from an overhead pipe ever since.

The rat was hung there, probably in the 1950s, after it was found during extensive building renovations. Word has it that it was hung by its tail with a tongue-in-cheek warning from Forrest to his employees to do a good job or suffer the same consequences.

Young said the British Broadcasting Co. paid Longley to close the store for one day so it could film the rat, the creaking stairs and other oddities for a documentary on Stephen King.

Planners say the backbone of downtown vitality is its retail stores and the success of those retail stores is the ability of its owners and employees to gain the trust of its customers. The Longleys, by all accounts, were most successful.

“John Longley and his family are legendary on Norway’s Main Street and Longley’s Hardware is a landmark,” Downtown Norway President Andrea Burns said. “John’s retirement and the closing of the business are great losses. Generations of people in Western Maine have been served by Longley’s. The businesses under the hardware’s roof are many, and the servicemen and sales people are capable and helpful.”

“We will miss them,” she added.


When asked what he will do when the time comes to leave, Young said, “I’m going to take a few walks down Main Street and sit on the marble bench across the street and look at (the store.)”

“Longley’s business was his family and Norway was his home and John was fiercely loyal to both. In fact, to me, John represents what is Norway at its core . . . dependable, not flashy, painfully honest and stubborn about the things that matter. Most of us in town know that John is Longley’s. I might go so far as to say that John is Norway.”

— David Holt, Norway town manager

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