“I love a good challenge,” Susan Longchamps-Bergeron said about owning Webb’s Market in downtown Lewiston. Longchamps-Bergeron grew up in the neighborhood and always provides a shoulder for customers to lean on if they need someone to talk to. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Susan Longchamps-Bergeron grew up on Knox Street and moved to the city’s outskirts in her 20s, around the time she started her own cleaning service.

Webb’s Market owner Susan Longchamps-Bergeron talks with a teenager about the challenges he is facing at school. Longchamps-Bergeron grew up in the neighborhood and always provides a shoulder for customers to lean on if they need someone to talk to. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

She worked hard, raised a family and always wanted to come back.

When she heard Webb’s Market on Pine Street was for sale, she had to buy it.

Longchamps-Bergeron was not deterred by another buyer. Or by two banks saying no to a loan.

“My sister came to my house one day and she said, ‘Susan, it’s over. Stop, don’t stress yourself out. It’s over, the store’s already sold.’ ‘I don’t care what it looks like, Ramona, I know that store is mine,'” Longchamps-Bergeron, 42, remembers telling her. “Today, it is mine.”

Her days start at 5 a.m. throwing the fixings for 24 breakfast sandwiches on the grill. Doors open at 6.

“I’ll usually have one of the girls that will come in and share something that happened to them (overnight), and it’s usually something very terrifying, so they’ll come in and get coffee,” Longchamps-Bergeron said.

“People that most people would refer to as bad, whether they’re addicts or dealers, they’ll come in and they share a little bit. You can always tell when they want you to ask them about their day or their situation. They want to be encouraged, ‘You can do better. You’ve got to get a job,’ and then I’ll share a little bit about myself.”

That talking and listening make it feel like a second home.

“You have to be dedicated to something like this, but I love being here,” she said.

Longchamps-Bergeron was entrepreneurial at a young age with yard sales and lemonade stands. She ran her cleaning business for 15 years through word-of-mouth.

“I just wanted something with a flexible schedule and I didn’t like being told what to do,” she said. “When you’re cleaning someone’s home, you really become part of the family.”

She said she often wished she had time to volunteer downtown, but could never make it work.

An “I am Lewiston” mural going up on the front of Webb’s Market. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Then she heard Raymond Webb was selling Webb’s after 34 years. Her sister, Ramona Ouellette, had worked there for 25 years.

This was the chance to get back, and give back.

Webb’s initial price was too high, she said. When they talked again a year later, he had accepted another offer and taken a deposit.

“It gave me the drive even more,” Longchamps-Bergeron said.

She approached with a detailed pitch and this time he said yes, if she could get the financing. She heard two no’s, was told she needed to have two years’ experience in the industry first, and then Community Concepts said yes.

She bought Webb’s on June 7, 2018.

“All of the people that I want to volunteer my time with are right here,” Longchamps-Bergeron said. “Most days, I’m a therapist. I leave emotionally drained but not physically. They’ll come in, ‘Miss Susan, can we talk about this or can we pray about this?'”

She knocked down a wall in the store so customers can see food as it’s being made in the kitchen and takeout sales have doubled. She added yogurt parfaits and expanded the fruits and vegetables, looking to add healthier choices.

Longchamps-Bergeron also added an unofficial morning crew of helpers, half a dozen neighborhood children who show up as early as 6:30 and spend an hour or two cleaning windows and display cases, sweeping the sidewalks and watering plants.

“I usually give them between $4-$5 and they turn around and spend it right here,” she said. “The real goal is to teach them, obviously, the value of the dollar, how to make an impact on the community in a positive way and keep them out of trouble, and I think it’s working, I really do.”

Get in any sort of trouble, and if she finds out, you can’t help for two weeks.

“They’re devastated when they can’t work,” Longchamps-Bergeron said. “I had this one little boy who was so cute, when he could finally come back in, he hugged me and then he went around and hugged everybody else and said, ‘I’m so glad to be back.’ So, clearly it’s making some sort of impact on the little kids.”

She said she’d wanted to eventually paint a mural on the outside of the store when someone from Growing our Tree Streets approached her about the project. It’s being paid for by a Healthy Neighborhoods grant.

Her daughters Olivia and Alexandra came up with the idea for a block party that will show off the mural and celebrate downtown. It’s planned for Sept. 18, closing down several city blocks, with a DJ, free hot dogs and chips, a dunk tank, basketball tournament and other events planned, co-hosted by several different businesses and the city.

“It’s a great way to show all the transformation that’s taking place downtown,” Longchamps-Bergeron said.

To that end, she’s also been running $1.19 Italian specials about once a month, hoping the price draws in people from outside the downtown.

“They’ll start mingling with someone they wouldn’t have mingled with,” she said. “You can come in this area, you don’t have to be freaked out. Not everybody’s out to hurt you.”

Many days, Longchamps-Bergeron heads home mid-day for a nap. Several nights a week, she’ll also close the store at 9 p.m.

The plan, she said, is to stay “until I’m old. I’m fulfilling everything I wanted to.”

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