Shirley Damm, owner of Hungry Hollow Country Store in West Paris, looks over a few freshly baked treats sold at the store. Dee Mennear/Advertiser Democrat Buy this Photo

WEST PARIS — Come Sept. 1, Shirley Damm will have owned and operated the Hungry Hollow Country Store, 28 Bethel Road, for 35 years.

The store offers an eclectic mix of inventory, but it is an inventory that has worked for three and a half decades. Customers can find home-cooked food and fresh-baked breads, cookies and sweets in one portion of the store. In another, they can find unique gifts, handcrafted items and home decor.

“My husband, Robert, laid out the whole thing,” she said. “He built all the furniture from old wood. It is his design, I just filled it up.”

Having just turned 86, Damm is ready to pass the torch on to someone else. In fact, she’s been ready for about a decade but has not been able to find a buyer for the business.

The Damms purchased an orchard just up the road from the store in 1979.

“After that first year, we realized we didn’t have enough apples to make ends meet,” Damm said.

To supplement their income, the couple opened their gardens so people could pick their own vegetables, herbs and berries.

“My husband got the idea that if we could get down near the main road to sell our vegetables and a few gift items, we might be able to make it,” she said.

In 1984, they took his idea to heart and rented the building.

“We started with 19 crafters because we couldn’t afford the inventory,” she said. “We stepped out in faith. All we were hoping for was to just pay the bills month after month.”

That step of faith paid off. A country store was just what the area needed. It wasn’t long before they were able to purchase the building.

“At one point we had 275 crafters selling their products,” she added.

Then, the recession of the early 1990s hit … and so did breast cancer.

“Crafters could no longer live on the income their work brought in. They went to work and stopped crafting. I needed to focus on my cancer treatment. I couldn’t keep up with it. We still had, and still have, a few things made by local crafters.” she said.

Damm beat her breast cancer. And, when it returned 18 years later, she beat it again. Through health scares, shifts in the economy, raising a family and the passing of her husband in 2012, the business flourished.

“We have been very successful and have grown every year,” she said.

Damm has seen many changes and challenges over the years. The biggest change, she said, is technology. When she first started out, they had an old-fashioned cash register. Now, every transaction is itemized. “No one used cards back then either,” she added. “Now, no one uses cash.”

The greatest challenge has been finding qualified employees, she said.

“Right now, I have some great workers who have been here 15 years and some great workers who have been here for only a year or two,” she said. “That isn’t an issue that we face alone, I think every business is challenged with finding qualified employees.”

Damm said she does not want to close the store but the time has come where that may happen. If a buyer does not come along, the store may close by the end of the year, she said.

“I want to turn it over to someone and work with them for a while so it all goes smoothly,” she said. “I don’t want the business to lose its customer base. I’d really like to see it continue,” she added.

For more information about Hungry Hollow Country Store, or inquire about purchasing the business, call Damm at 674-3012.

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