A family business for over 70 years. Submitted photo

FARMINGTON — In October 1949, Robert H, or as he was known, R. H. Reny opened a store in Damariscotta. While that fall he did well; when winter came, shoppers became scarce. So he loaded merchandise into his old Hudson, and hit the nearby roads. He went door-to-door talking, drinking coffee and selling items out of his car. He made a lot of new friends, and when the weather warmed up, they came to the store. And the business has grown ever since. His philosophy remains the same formula Renys Inc. uses today: make great buys of quality merchandise and pass the low prices onto customers.

Today with 17 stores across Maine, Renys is a universally well-known and admired staple of the Maine economy, with 500 employees. Yet during the 70-year lifetime of this business, a lot has changed in towns across the state. Many businesses, especially those with multiple stores abandoned downtowns for locations in strip centers and malls. Renys chose a different path in its locations. Of those 17 stores, 11 are in downtowns housed in 13 historic buildings. And a 14th historic building was donated to a nonprofit organization. The family’s commitment to downtowns was also illustrated by Mary Kate Reny’s long volunteer service on the Advisory Council of the Maine Downtown Center of Maine Development Foundation.

Using its buildings as part of its marketing strategy, Renys has rehabilitated two buildings using historic tax credits, updating those buildings in conformance with preservation standards and is about to begin a third historic tax credit rehab. When planning was underway to make repairs to the Farmington store in 2009, Maine Preservation’s former Field Service Manager Chris Closs helped with their first tax credit project. Chris suggested using the credits as well as moving the elevator inside, resulting in savings that permitted repairing and opening additional square footage in the store, increasing its economic viability and that of the downtown in Farmington.

Greg Paxton, Executive Director noted: “As I recently stood outside the Gardiner Renys store for a short time taking photos, several cars and pedestrians drove or walked up and went in. I was reminded that just one store that is a destination helps the viability of all the other businesses around it as it attracts customers. As global warming increases, the pedestrian friendly and oriented businesses located in downtowns, where we give our cars a rest and use our feet, are more important than ever.”

For its 70 years of steadfast interest and leadership in retaining and improving the viability of Maine’s downtowns and its leadership in employing multiple historic buildings to house its high-quality low-cost approach to retailing, Maine Preservation is pleased to recognize Renys as our 2019 Earle G Shettleworth, Jr. Preservation Champion.

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