The Twin Cities’ first 24-hour convenience store is celebrating its 40th anniversary later this month.

1. How did Elizabeth Ann’s get its start?

My parents owned car washes. Dad, Donald Everett Sr., also sold car wash supplies and equipment throughout New England and mom, Elizabeth Ann Everett, did the books starting in 1960. While at car wash conventions out West in the early 1970s, they noticed gas stations and “convenience stores” open 24 hours a day. (Remember back then, everything around here closed at 8 at night.) They thought it was a great idea since the mills were still open and folks worked all three shifts in Lewiston. Their accountant and two best friends, both bank presidents, told them they would lose their shirt and they shouldn’t do it.

While mom and dad were putting together a business plan, mom got cancer, so things were put on hold. She died soon after in 1974, so dad started with the plan and we opened in 1976. Dad named the store Elizabeth Ann’s after my mom because of her love and dedication to our family and businesses. Mom and dad were true partners in every aspect of the word.

In 1976, the only other business open 24/7 in the Lewiston-Auburn area was Jimmy’s Diner, a truck stop in Auburn. It was a big deal when we opened. One of the major oil companies offered to buy the place the first year we were in business for $100,000 more than Dad had into it. In 1976, $100,000 was a lot of money! I’m the youngest in the family and had just gone off to college when we opened the store. Dad sold our house to finance the store and he slept on a cot in the office for the first three years we were in business to keep us afloat. That $100,000 was tempting, but Dad felt that if it was worth that much to them then he was onto something so he turned them down, while still sleeping on that cot.

2. With so much competition in the market, what do you do to either stand out or keep customers coming back? 

We have very little turnover with our staff; some have been with me for 11 years. The customers become friends with us and enjoy stopping in. We also give back to the community by selling Shrine Circus Tickets and donating to the Shriner’s Children Hospital for the past 40 years. When dad died, in lieu of flowers we asked folks to make a donation to the Shriner’s Hospital in dad’s name. The Shriner’s contacted me a month or so later to personally thank us, they had so many donations in dad’s name. Because mom died of cancer, we also do everything we can to raise money for the Dempsey Challenge. In the last seven years we have raised $35,000 for them. I feel our customers are loyal because they know we give back to the community.

3. Policy or issue you’re following at either the state or national level, and what impact could it have on your business?

I worry about the heroin epidemic. With more folks addicted and less options for treatment, we have a lot of desperate people out there, which has caused the surge in small business robberies that you never heard of in the past. I am always concerned about my staff’s safety. I would like to see more options for treatment for the folks who want it.

4. A business-related decision that you wrestled with before deciding to take the plunge:

The hardest business decision was to start accepting credit and debit cards. We were cash-only until the recession hit eight years ago. The cost of processing credit and debit cards is so high. When the recession hit, people used less cash and more cards, which seems strange to me, but it’s what happened, so we got with the program and started accepting them. Everyone told me we would get more business and it would offset the cost. Unfortunately, that is not the case. It just switched how folks paid and now we are paying tens of thousands of dollars to big banks to pay to process the cards and sales are about the same. It has hurt our bottom line, but don’t get me started on big banks.

5. If you received a $1 million grant tomorrow, no strings attached, what would you invest it in?

I recently bought a ukulele. Having no musical background, I am finding learning to read music and play an instrument both complex and joyful. I would use the money to convert my vacant Express Lube building and start a nonprofit. I’d buy lots of different instruments and have a place for folks of all ages to come to learn and play music.

6. Strangest thing you’ve either seen in the middle of the night during a shift or been called about:

A few years back I went to work and the cashier told me there was a homeless man sleeping in the laundromat. So I went in to move him along. He was only wearing socks, shoes and boxer shorts. He had found a blanket someone had left behind and wrapped himself in it. He became abusive so I called the police. When the officer showed up, the man explained he wasn’t homeless. He had been out with friends at the Blue Goose and somehow misplaced his attire and was either dumped at the laundromat so he wouldn’t freeze (it was wintertime) or wandered in on his own; he wasn’t sure how he got there. He assured the officer he had money at home so the officer called him a cab to take him home.

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