FARMINGTON — Wayne Drake of Auburn helped carry bags of rolled oats into the Better Living Center on Front Street on Friday. He is the new owner of the natural food store, which was established in 1973.

Wayne Drake, new owner of the Better Living Center, a natural food store in Farmington, carries a bag of quick rolled oats into the store on Friday. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

The 39-year-old has big plans and dreams he hopes to accomplish.

When Drake was 8 years old, a downtown businesswoman, Kathy Gossom, agreed to sell two pumpkins he grew. It was a good experience that stayed with him.

At age 17, Betty McConnachie gave him a chance to work at the Better Living Center, which she owned.

“I was literally a farm kid,” Drake, who grew up in New Vineyard, said.

The opportunity “just changed my life,” he said.

When Wally Sumner took over when Drake was 18, he was given more and more responsibility. He helped Sumner, who owned the store with his wife, Becky, with bookkeeping, payroll and ordering.

“That gave me a lot of confidence,” Drake said. “It really gave me on the job experience and helped me spring into banking and law enforcement.”

He ventured into banking, then law enforcement and repeated the process. He is now a sergeant and assistant director of the University of Maine at Farmington Department of Public Safety/Campus Police Department and works evenings there. He works during the day at his store. Drake splits his time between his Auburn residence and a studio apartment in Farmington.

Drake had always kept in touch with Wally Sumner and told him if he ever was ready to sell, he was interested.

Wayne Drake, the new owner of the Better Living Center, a natural foods store in downtown Farmington, looks over a delivery of oats and other products on Friday at the store on Front Street. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

Franklin Savings Bank stepped up to help Drake, as well as the town of Farmington, which has a revolving loan fund, and Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments. He is grateful for the help they gave him with financing, funding and business plans, he said.

The first order of business at the store was to exchange a cash machine he had worked on as a young man to a modern register.

He also has expanded hours and days. The store is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

He and his staff are adhering to all of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and Gov. Janet Mills’ executive orders. There is curbside pickup on Thursday nights, which he plans to expand.  The expanded days and hours will allow people to come into the store with less congestion.

Customers were steadily arriving Friday morning.

“We are doing the best we can to keep our customers and employees safe. It is really what it comes down to,” he said.

The store sells about 1,500 pounds of oats and flour a week. It also sells spices, baking ingredients, yeast, vitamins and local produce, among other food products.

Drake wants to add ready-to-eat-meals for the lunchtime crowd and have quick supper meals available.

The first order of work for Wayne Drake when he purchased the Better Living Center in Farmington, was to take out the old cash register he used there as a young man and replace it with a modern one. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

“I want to appeal to a lot of diverse people,” he said.

Besides being purely organic food, there will also be whole food.

Among his dreams is putting in a commercial kitchen with a drive-through option for ready-made meals for both vegan and meats, he said.

He has staff who have worked at the store between three and 35 years with the average time of service 20 years.

“It’s a lot of trust,” he said. “I feel a huge responsibility of stewardship to do this the right way. I do not consider this mine. It is the town’s and the people who work here. Our mission stays the same to provide healthy, affordable food to the community. Selling local produce has been a huge strength to us. We practice what we preach. Our customers expect that we carry local products.”

He picked up six invoices from his desk to demonstrate sales of local products.

“We expect people to shop here because we are local, so of course, we try to use local supplies whenever we can,” he said.

He said he wants to keep the store an old-school general store and include local deliveries but incorporate new technology.

In his spare time, besides that spent with his family, Drake also serves as treasurer of  Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

“I have a lot of interests and passions. My challenge is to try and do it all and still do it well,” Drake said.


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