LISBON FALLS – As far as Ed Wagaman is concerned, it was pure magic.

He had traveled to Lisbon Falls from Pennsylvania just to glory in his love for all things Moxie. But when he arrived at 2 Main St., he found the famed Moxie Store locked, dark and empty.

“I grabbed the doorknob and held onto it, just to feel it,” the 62-year-old said. “Then I turned around and there was Frank.”

That’s Frank Anicetti, in case you hadn’t deduced that. Mr. Moxie himself, appearing like a mirage out of the bright orange haze that is the Moxie Festival.

“It was like a lightning strike,” Wagaman said. “It was such a cool experience. Some people climb Mount Everest; I got to the Moxie Festival and I got to meet Frank Anicetti.”

Mr. Moxie has that effect on people.

THE MAN, THE MYTH

For more than half a century, Anicetti has been at the Kennebec Fruit Co. building to greet the throngs who come from all over to revel in the Moxie mystique. Immortalized in a Stephen King novel, Frank’s fame has never been in question.

“Walking down the street in Old Orchard Beach the other day, I probably got accosted a dozen times,” Frank said at the start of this year’s festival, which was two weeks ago. “They say, ‘Hey, you’re Mr. Moxie.’ This goes on all the time, wherever I go. After the Stephen King book, I was signing 150 to 250 autographs per year.”

Now that Frank’s cleared out the old building and announced his retirement, his fame has risen to a new level. He’s fast approaching the realm of legend. He wears the mantle well.

An interesting thing about Frank Anicetti: He plays the role of Mr. Moxie to perfection. He never seems to actively invite attention, but he also never shows signs of irritation or fatigue when the eighth or ninth or 10th Moxie fan comes shuffling over, asking him to sign another hat, apron or T-shirt.

“He doesn’t go out of his way to seek it out,” said auctioneer Daniel Soules, who was tasked with selling off the vast variety of trinkets that came out of the store. “There’s no arrogance about him. Frank is extremely genuine.”

Some fast history.

The building at the corner of Main Street and Route 196 in Lisbon Falls was built in 1901. It became Kennebec Fruit in 1913 when Frank’s grandfather, Lamberto Anicetti, bought it and opened the store for business.

Ultimately, Lamberto would turn the store over to his son. Back then, the Worumbo Mill was thriving, with workers coming and going at all hours. Mill workers would come in for cold drinks, kids would come in for candy.

“Back then, Kennebec was the place to go for candy,” said Faye Brown, who grew up in Lisbon Falls. “We’d be like, can we have two of these and six of these. And then, can we put three of these back and have four of those?”

Frank was always at the store working with his dad, according to his kid sister, Cathey Bienkowski. Sometimes she’d have to throw him out and make him go home.

Although he did drive a food truck for the naval base in Brunswick for a time, Frank eventually turned all of his attention to the store. It became his life, and when the first Moxie trinket was introduced to the store, a bright orange flash went off in Frank’s head. Moxie, that was the ticket.

He learned everything there was to know about the obscure, bitter drink. He began to collect Moxie memorabilia, an endeavor later aided by the countless people who brought Frank items from all over the globe.

That love of Moxie prompted Anicetti to get Bob Labrie of Lewiston to put his Moxie “horsemobile” in the Lisbon Frontier Days Parade in the 1970s, a photo of which in the Sun Journal eventually made its way to Frank Potter in Newport News, Va., who, after talking with Frank and doing some research, became so intrigued by Moxie that he wrote the book “The Moxie Mystique.”

A year later, in 1982, Frank convinced his father to have Potter to the store for a book-signing event in July. More than 500 people showed up for the two-and-a-half-hour event. Potter returned in 1983, and in 1984 — with the town’s Frontier Days festival now defunct — the local chamber of commerce came forward to help organize the first Moxie Festival, which is now known to draw 50,000 to the otherwise sleepy town.

“Thousands of kids will have fun this weekend because of a soft drink,” said Bienkowski, Frank’s sister.

She’s clearly proud of her brother – proud of what he has done with the family store. Proud of the impact he has had on the town, and with the way Frank responds to the Moxie orange tidal wave of attention

“He’s earned the accolades,” she said. “He’s earned the respect.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’

The former home of Kennebec Fruit, a big kind of building with slight lean and peeling paint, is up for sale for the cool price of $99,000. Who will buy it? What will they do with the space? Will it ever be a Moxie-centric store again with an eclectic mix of items for sale?

“I’d like to see it continue as it is,” Frank said, in a short video produced by the real estate firm helping him sell the building. “But in this day and age things change, ideas change and this will be up to whoever takes it over.”

When Frank is being frank, he’ll tell you he has his doubts. He recalled a time seven years ago when a developer out of Florida expressed interest in buying the remaining section of the Worumbo Mill. The developer had visions of putting a theater with four screens in there as well as a museum and a pair of stages.

“He had done the same thing in Florida,” Frank said, “and he wanted to do it here.”

The idea never got off the ground, he said, because there was general disagreement how the deal should be handled.

“I’ve seen this happen so many times,” Frank said.

He doesn’t talk about town business very often, but when he does, it’s with obvious agitation. At the same time, he shrugged off suggestions that differences of opinions with the town led to his retirement at the age of 76. It was health problems, he said, and breathing problems in particular. When his doctor suggested it was due to stress, Frank was inclined to believe him, and he and the store parted ways.

“Taking that step was extremely difficult for him,” Bienkowski said. “He’s got the same trepidation anyone else would feel.”

LET THE BIDDING BEGIN

So many people turned out for the auctioning off of items from the Moxie store on the Saturday of the Moxie Festival, many of them had to stand outside. The lower floor at Soule’s auction house was jam-packed with people looking to get a piece of Moxie history.

And there were so many pieces – table after table heaped high with memorabilia, some of it dating back a century. Bumper stickers, posters, clocks, an RC Cola thermometer, Coke caps from bygone times, Ross Perot pins, hundreds of bottle openers

Hostess racks, Moxie advertising posters featuring actors 100 years dead, ice cream scoops, cash registers, soda machines, signs of all shapes and sizes, empty soda bottles from all over the world.

During a preview of the goods a night before the auction, Frank was a man in demand. He greeted visitors in bright orange suspenders and a Moxie hat turned backwards. He cracked jokes and told fanciful stories, but in the rare down times, there were glimpses of raw sentiment. All the things that surrounded him for more then half a century were suddenly divided and piled in boxes.

“You live with this stuff for so long,” Frank said, “it becomes part of the family. It’s hard to let it go.”

He looked momentarily sad, or at least wistful. But then a new group arrived, seeking autographs and looking to share Frank’s air, and Frank the performer was back.

“Would you like to hear a story?” he asked the newcomers, and then launched into a story about a recent trip to Reny’s where a friend snuck up behind Frank and pulled an orange dress over his head.

After that story came another one as the group of admirers continued to grow.

A group of freshman girls from the high school went to the store, Frank told the group, because they were expected to produce a paper on local history. While regaling them with his own version of history, Frank gave the girls his famous Moxie Finger, pointing at them in the tradition of the white-suited Moxie Man in the soft drink’s logo.

“For one picture, I used the left finger. For the other, I used the right,” Frank said. “It became a major debate at the school: Which finger is the correct finger?”

A SODA FOUNTAIN OF KNOWLEDGE

It’s hard to explain why the love of Moxie almost invariably leads to a fascination with Frank Anicetti. That fascination was evident in almost everyone who came through the door for the Moxie auction.

Gunnar Benjamin, a 14-year-old from New Hampshire, embraces the Moxie culture so avidly, his mother gave him a trip to this year’s festival as a graduation present. It’s what the boy wanted.

He also wanted to meet the man behind the orange curtain.

“In everything I’ve read about Moxie, I’ve heard a lot about him,” Gunnar said. “So, it was a real honor to meet him in person.”

His mom, Melissa Abruzzi, isn’t so into the Moxie, herself, yet she found herself dazzled by the magnetism of the man so many had come to see.

“Frank is just so great, so funny,” Abruzzi said. “I asked him, ‘Can I take your picture?’ And he said, ‘I don’t have one.'”

The people who traveled to Lisbon Falls for a taste of the Moxie culture seemed to come away more impressed with the round-faced man behind the counter than with anything they found on the store shelves or within its coolers. The internet is littered with reviews of the Kennebec Fruit Co. store and after a while, they start to sound the same.

“How can you not love Frank?” wrote Martha C., a Cumberland Center woman who reviewed the store on Yelp. “Frank Anicetti is a soda fountain of knowledge, he pushes the Moxie name in all its blaze-orange glory. He is direct and to the point and is aching for a reason to draw people in so he can spend time with them. A true people person.”

“Frank the Moxie Man is quite a character, a lovely person,” wrote a woman named Susan, who posted her review on roadsideamerica.com.”He can tell you the whole story, word for word, of how Moxie was invented. Just talk to him. He loves talking about Moxie, and books, especially science fiction.”

LAST CALL

A week after the Moxie Festival, the old Kennebec Fruit Co. building took on an unmistakable air of emptiness. The faded old awnings, tattered by time, flapped listlessly in the breeze. The windows that aren’t boarded over looked dark and dusty, no longer an signs of human life behind them.

So where is Frank these days? Sometimes he’s just a building away, at Dr. Mike’s Madness Cafe. Now and then he goes on road trips – to Popham Beach one day, to Old Orchard the next – that he has completely missed out on over the past 50 years.

Frank, who never married, always considered the old Moxie store his wife.

“And now it’s divorce time,” he’s fond of saying. “Divorce is good.”

He might take some classes at an area school, Frank said. He’ll travel or he might decide that he prefers to spend time at home. Too soon to say, really.

“He’s got all these choices,” said Bienkowski, Frank’s sister. “There’s a whole big world out there for him now.”

A Fond Thanks to Mr. Moxie, Frank Anicetti

by Faye Brown

The time has come to hail a friend,

the man with the Moxie lore;

after many happy memorable years,

Frank will close the iconic Kennebec’s door.

Generations have walked through that big old door,

and strolled across the wooden floor, to perch on the twirling stools.

The little kids would bounce and wiggle,

and Frank could always make them giggle.

Three Anicetti generations remembered,

for serving town youth so kindly,

with candy for the old Met Theater movies . . .

Ahh . . . the case was filled with so many goodies . . . for a kid, it was sublime.

Remembering times at old Kennebec’s Fruit,

how about those “Little Lemons”. . . a baseball team of great young players

that Larry Desjardins coached;

and every time they won a game, they all earned a frosty root beer float!

A Moxie book party for Mr. Frank Potter,

got Moxie Days off and rolling;

with the famously crafted “Horse Moxie Mobile,” and

the beverage both Franks were extolling.

The excitement of seeing the fans who attended,

sparked the LFFD to bring on the fireman’s muster.

It quickly caught on like a wildfire’s roar;

the crowds were all cheering and asking for more.

So . . . a great big parade stepped up the paces,

with Moxie, great foods, games, and foot and boat races.

The crowds were all wearing orange Moxie themed tees,

and proclaiming the party was just the “bee’s knees”!

Frank, you are a lucky guy . . . a man of great renown:

even our world famous Stephen King has written of you in his tomes.

A plethora of happy times is what you’ll leave behind:

So, THANKS, Frank, for the memories . . .

You and Moxie are “Ones of a kind!”


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