Maura Murphy as a child, wheeling off for Victor’s market on Main Street in Lewiston in the 1970s. Submitted photo

It was the mid-1970s, and for a 6-year-old Lewiston girl named Maura Murphy, a stop at a little store called Victor’s market was about the best thing in the world. 

She’d jump on her Schwinn bicycle with its sparkly purple banana seat and off she’d wheel to Main Street, where Victor’s sat, surrounded by a hair salon, a laundromat, a drugstore and a diner. 

Fifty years later, Murphy still remembers the smell of the store, which she describes as a weird mix of fish and cigarette smoke.  

“For all of its grime,” Murphy wrote of her favorite childhood store, “Victor’s had a first-rate selection of candy — hundreds of chocolate bars displayed in rows that reached from floor to ceiling, and there behind the counter like precious gems on display were dozens of kinds of penny candy in transparent jars.” 

But the store offered more than just Mary Janes, Jolly Ranchers, Smarties and Pixy Sticks. The Victor’s shelves also beheld milk, bakery items, meat and fish. Everything, really, that a family needed to get by. 

“It was a one-stop shopping place for many neighborhood residents,” Murphy says.  


Jalbert’s Market at 521 Sabattus St. in Lewiston is seen in this photo taken in 1963. Courtesy city of Lewiston

Colombe Loef, now 77 and living in Eustis, grew up in a home on Cram Avenue, off Sabattus Street in Lewiston, and even way out there, Loef remembers having a wide variety of corner stores to choose from. 

There was Boulay’s, located on the first floor of an apartment house at the corner of Sabattus Street and Randall Road. Just down the road, on the corner of Orchard Street, was a smaller store called Cloutier’s Market. 

“This one was the go-to store for the milk,” Loef recalls. “As kids we cashed in 2-cent bottles for candy there.” 

A little further along on Sabattus Street was the original Bourque’s Market, located on the first floor in the home of Leon and Alice Bourque. 

“She sold the all-day sucker for 5 cents,” Loef says. “Mrs. Bourque made them in different colors. She used a muffin tin and stuck a popsicle stick as the sucker holder. Loved the green one.” 

For Kenny Smotherman, a kid who lived at the corner of Knox and Spruce streets in Lewiston, there were stores located on practically every corner of his neighborhood. There were two on Knox Street, another on Maple, and still more stores on Birch, Blake and Bates streets. 


Arthur A. Auger’s IGA grocery store was once a fixture at 87 Lincoln St. in Lewiston. Courtesy city of Lewiston

In some locations, there were two stores on the same street, almost side-by-side. Today, in an age where chain stores reign and corner markets are few and far between, one wonders how there was enough business for all those little stores to survive. 

It wasn’t a problem, as it turns out. 

“Everybody shopped in the neighborhood because nobody had a car,” Smotherman says. “Almost every corner had a store and they all had their own specialty. You didn’t have to go very far for anything. If you wanted to go to an actual grocery store, you had to walk to Middle Street, almost at Main Street, and you had Samson’s. But you had to carry your stuff home in boxes. If you were buying enough to last a week or two, that was a real trudge.” 

L$C Cash Market near the corner of Park and Spruce streets in Lewiston would later become known as “Blackie’s.” Courtesy city of Lewiston

And so, people shopped at the little markets in their own neighborhoods, where established relationships with store owners were vital to a family’s existence. If you got along well with the store proprietor, you could probably run a line of credit, useful in lean times.

Smotherman was particularly fond of L&C Cash Market, known as “Blackie’s,” at the corner of Park and Spruce streets. Operated by the Labbe family, the store is most commonly connected to Normand “Blackie” Labbe, who’s father owned the original L&C Cash Market. 

To many who lived in the neighborhood, the generosity of the Labbe family was often the difference between full bellies and starvation. 


“That guy gave everybody credit, no matter what,” Smotherman recalls. “He didn’t let people go hungry. He kept a lot of us alive.” 

A customer enters Bourque’s Market on Sabattus Street in Lewiston recently, one of a shrinking number of neighborhood markets still satisfying customers. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

All across Lewiston and Auburn — and across the entire nation, for that matter — little markets like Blackie’s, Samson’s and Bourque’s were the throbbing hearts of the neighborhoods in which they sat.  

“Every neighborhood had a corner market we could walk to as kids,” says Dawn Gordon, and “buy cigarettes for our parents and penny candy for us! In New Auburn there was Dostie’s Market on South Main Street, Bosse’s Market on South Main Street, Denny’s Market or Grocer on lower Mill Street, and right next to it — where Rolly’s Diner now stands — was another little store and breakfast counter.” 

And it wasn’t just the products on their shelves — the milk, butter, rice and bread families needed for nutrition — that made these markets important. The neighborhood stores were more than that. They were centers of information, friendship and sure, even gossip. 

“These stores were such important cornerstones for the feeling of community in neighborhoods,” says Murphy. “Passing by the same front porches, say, on the way to or from Victor’s, involved greetings, little conversations, inquiries or news about family or mutual friends, etc. Looking back, all of that crisscrossing human contact that was a taken-for-granted part of life acted as an informal neighborhood watch, a kind of safety net at a time when kids of all ages freely circulated far and wide.” 

Betty DeCoster Goulet, now living in Lewiston, grew up in East Auburn. She remembers a period between 1945 and the mid-1960s, when two stores on Center Street — Hall’s Market and Martin’s IGA — were the center of the local universe. 


“The owners at the time, Cy Hall and Irving Martin, knew everyone that went into their stores. They always called us by our first names,” Goulet says.

Her parents shopped mainly at Hall’s, and they had a system.

R & H Market at 798 Lisbon St. in Lewiston moved to Lisbon in 1968. Courtesy city of Lewiston

“My mother would call the store, like many others, on Fridays and place their weekly orders. After work, my dad would pick up a box load,” Goulet says. “Anything that you might need during the week, you could just place the order and charge it. Pay on Friday. Those were the good ol’ days!” 

On the other end of Auburn, Charlene Marshall grew up on Academy Street in the 1970s and early ’80s. 

“Florian’s was our go-to,” Marshall says now. “My dad had money and we had an account there. He used to feed the entire neighborhood. He would go get Italians, pizza, soda, chips … I had 10 brothers and sisters and all of us would take our neighborhood friends and some kids from school and we would just put it on my dad’s account. No joke.”

Rickey’s Variety at 176 East Ave. in Lewiston is seen in this 1962 photo. The store was demolished by 1978. Courtesy city of Lewiston

Florian’s at the time followed the same script as other neighborhood markets. There was candy for the kids, sure, but they also stocked pretty much everything a family needed to get through their days.


“It was a great family that used to run Florian’s,” Marshall says. “The whole family was fabulous. They had penny candy. They had fishing supplies and all that, sort of like a general store.” 

For Jim Palmer, of New Auburn, the store where many of his childhood memories were created in the 1950s and ’60s was Breau’s Market.

“It was located in what is now the parking lot for Wheeler’s Market,” Palmer says. “My first home was at my grandparents’ apartment on Ninth Street and it was a short walk to Breau’s. I remember Grampa packing his empty Ballantine Ale bottles into an old green duffel bag to cash in for another green bottle of Ballantine Ale. Breau’s Market had a small footprint but it was jam packed with a meat counter, a chilled-water Coca-Cola cooler and a great glass candy counter. The owner, Eric Breau, was just a nice guy! When Eric retired the store was bought by Stanley Barron who was my grandparents landlord.”

Across Lewiston and Auburn, these kinds of stores were everywhere, and the more people you talk to about them, the more you learn about the generosity of the store owners. 

Breton’s Market on Scribner Boulevard in Lewiston in the 1950s. Courtesy of Polly Robinson

Polly Robinson, as a child, got to see it from the other end. Growing up in the 1950s, her parents owned Breton’s Market, a mom-and-pop type store on Scribner Boulevard in Lewiston. This store, too, was as much a social center as it was a market. 

“Regular customers would stop by during evening hours just to chat and to catch up on the news,” Robinson says. “It was an opportunity to know your neighbors and your community.” 


Breton’s was open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. on weekdays, but stayed open an hour later on Saturdays. Like so many of the other stores, its owners carried customers through periods when money was tight. 

“Dad often extended credit to families going through hard times, trusting to a promise for payment when their circumstances improved,” Robinson says. “Sometimes they cleared their account, sometimes they didn’t. Other than a gentle reminder, he never applied pressure. It was just taking care of neighbors.” 

And taking care of neighbors included catering to children, of which there were many in most communities. Many of the tales gathered for this story included lusty descriptions of the candy cases. 

“The penny candy was my bane,” says Robinson, who worked at her parents’ store during the summers. “Dad had a special candy display case built. The candy bars were at the top on shelves behind sliding glass doors. The penny candy was in the bottom of the case with glass doors that pulled up and could be held in place with an elbow. For sanitary purposes, no one was allowed to serve themselves. We had brown paper bags in different sizes depending on how much they were buying. Kids would come in with their nickel or dime, point to their selection, and I would put it in the bag. Waiting for them to choose was an exercise in patience — lots of patience . . . which serves me well still.” 

Many of the neighborhood stores go back over generations.

A 1950s-era flyer from Begin’s on Pine Street in Lewiston. The store is now Webb’s Market. Courtesy of Susan Longchamps-Bergeron

Lorraine Gosselin lived on Bartlett Street from 1936 to 1940 and then in other locations across the downtown. She remembers stores all over the place: Begin’s Neighborhood Market at Horton and Pine, Lambert’s at Walnut and Howe, Caron’s Groceries on Ash Street, among them.


Gosselin lived in a time when a kid who was sent to the store for bread, milk and other staples would usually have enough change leftover to buy candy or an ice cream cone that cost a nickel.

Neighborhood markets were emblems of the American dream in action. Store owners, many of them from the very neighborhoods in which they set up shop, were able to make enough profit to provide for their own families. For the customers, the stores represented freedom of choice — if you didn’t like one store, you could just walk an extra block to find another — and the ability to live comfortably.

These mom-and-pop stores dominated the landscape in an era before massive chain supermarkets and superstores. Most people remember those days as better times in general — an age when people knew their neighbors well and folks took pride in the communities in which they lived. 

Lambert’s grocery at 80 Walnut St. in Lewiston, established by William A. Lambert, is seen in this undated photo. Courtesy city of Lewiston

“If you threw a candy wrapper on Knox Street,” says Smotherman, “an old lady was coming out of a house with a broom and she’d whack you with it until you picked up at that wrapper. They would be out there sweeping the sidewalks at like 5 in the morning.” 

Gontran Jean of Lewiston remembers how her neighborhood store, the Union Street Market, would become jam packed with customers who stopped on their way home from church. She doesn’t see that so much anymore now that most people do their shopping at the bigger chain stores. 

“We have made much progress since those days, but we have also taken one big step backward in doing so,” Jean says, “Life was so good back in the late ’60s and ’70s.” 


“Those were different times,” says Marshall. “I kind of long for them. I’m sure we all do as we get older.” 

When we first asked our readers to recall the neighborhood stores they remember from years gone by, we thought we’d compile a list of them. The list quickly became unmanageable, spanning several decades, their original locations often in dispute. 

Sarrazin’s Grocery at 284 Lincoln St. in Lewiston is seen in this photo from 1958. Courtesy city of Lewiston

Gilly’s Market, Bissons, Begin’s, Carbonneau’s, Wilson’s Corner Store, Caron’s, Robert’s Card Store (a great source for Indian brand pumpkin seeds, we’re told,) Marcoux and Harvey, Donovan’s, Roy’s Market, Bonneau’s, Cottles, Belanger’s, LePage’s Grocery, Lambert’s, Sarrazin’s, Levesque’s Corner Store, Eddie’s Market, Bilodeau’s, Bernier’s, Persky’s . . . on and on the list goes, and that’s just in Lewiston. 

Leon Ward stands in Ward’s Neighborhood Market in Lewiston shortly after he became the owner in 2016. Ward died earlier this year, prompting an outpouring of neighborhood support for his family and the staff. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

“These French-Canadian mom-and-pop markets are landmarks of the neighborhoods,” said Jim Bois of Auburn, who spoke after the passing of Leon Ward last year. 

Ward was the proprietor of Ward’s Market on Pine Street in Lewiston, one of few stores left that are still considered strictly neighborhood markets. It’s a place where the current owners know the bulk of their customers by name and people often come in just to mingle.

As it happens, there is another bona fide neighborhood store still standing, and just down the street from Ward’s. Webb’s Market, this one is called, and the store has been at that location under one name or another for about 70s years. 


Susan Longchamps-Bergeron bought the store in 2018, and her plan was always to maintain the place as a true neighborhood market, just as it was in the 1950s when it was sparkling new and known as Begin’s. 

“You’re not just a number here,” Bergeron says. “We know pretty much 90 percent of the customers, if not more, by their first names. We greet them that way. We ask about their families.” 

People come and go at Webb’s Market on Pine Street in Lewiston recently. The market was originally known as Begin’s Market, and continues to be a important resource in its neighborhood. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Like so many others we talked to, Bergeron laments the fact that neighborhood stores are not as prominent as they were in an earlier age. 

“I grew up here. I’m part of the community. I think it would be really bad to have the few good corner stores that are left go away,” she says. “These places are critical, I think, especially in neighborhoods like this one where a lot of people don’t have a vehicle, or they don’t have that few extra dollars for a cab. There are folks here who have never been to Walmart, Hannaford or Shaw’s, whether it’s (lack of) transportation or just the way they were brought up. They choose not to go to those bigger stores.” 

Nobody can say just when the decline of neighborhood stores began to happen, but one can make educated guesses. When the super stores began to open seven days a week, times got tough for the little guy.

“The opening of the supermarkets was the beginning of the decline in our customer base buying their week’s grocery purchase,” says Robinson, who’s family owned Breton’s in Lewiston until 1972. “When larger stores could not open on Sundays, Sunday morning business continued to be brisk. That changed when Sunday restrictions were lifted.” 


Now, even smaller towns tend to have at least one Hannaford or Shaw’s, and Walmart is a short drive for just about everybody. Every one of them is open seven days a week.  

In addition, there are chain stores like the Big Apple, Cumberland farms and 7-Eleven, which offer staples like bread and milk along with beer, smokes and lottery tickets. 

It would be hard for a traditional neighborhood market to survive in this climate of hyper-convenience, yet there are some that do.  

Dee’s Market still operates on Blake Street in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In addition to Ward’s, Bourque’s and Webb’s, arguments could be made that stores like Speaker’s Variety on Spruce Street and Dave’s Convenience on Sabattus Street in Lewiston still fit the mold of those old neighborhood markets. Both rely heavily on foot traffic from people who live in surrounding blocks, as does Lewiston Variety on College Street, Dee’s Market on Blake Street and the Corner Variety on Lincoln Street. 

In Auburn, in addition to Florian’s, there are also stores like High Street Variety, Wheeler’s Market on South Main Street, Heathco’s on Court Street at the top of Goff Hill, and Crossroads Market near the airport that still service particular neighborhoods. 

In both cities, new variety stores seem to blink in and out of existence like exotic particles. Some make it, some don’t. No matter what products and conveniences they offer up to their customer base, they’ll always have to compete with the offerings of the big stores.

Nobody expects that things will ever go back to the way it once was. By and large, it seems people have grown too accustomed to the convenience of the big stores — not to mention the convenience of online shopping — to ever revive the age of neighborhood markets. 

But anyone over the age of 45 probably has at least some dim memories of a time when the friendly store on the corner was the place to be, and if your mom sent you to pick up milk and sugar, you could probably finagle a handful of squirrel nuts, Zots and Bull’s Eyes while you were there. 

“I never imagined that one day I would come to miss this micro-culture,” says Murphy, who remembers Victor’s in Lewiston with such clarity, “but decades later, living in my childhood neighborhood as an adult, I realize how special it actually was.”

Persky’s Market at 73 Sabattus St. in Lewiston featured some hard-to-miss advertising for its homemade sauerkraut. Courtesy city of Lewiston

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