Here’s to hoping H.B. Provisions either stays the way it is or is somehow, if even possible, improved upon, once the general store is officially purchased from its current longtime owners, Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen.
We need general stores like this one, which is now for sale. There are quite a few of them around, but the key to H.B. Provisions has always been what it promises in addition, “A General Store And So Much More.”
It’s the “So Much More” part that matters. By no means have I been a regular at the store over the years – as a resident of Sanford, I naturally have my own nearby spots – but often when I visit Kennebunkport I make sure to stop at H.B. Provisions for an experience specific to that place. I’ve filled my wife and daughter’s Christmas stockings with all sorts of items from the store over recent holidays, for example.
Valerie and I also have stayed overnight in Kennebunkport at a local inn that offers great deals in January. Even if we enjoy a complimentary breakfast at the inn on these occasions, we still make sure to cross the street to H.B. Provisions, where we get drinks – coffee for me and often hot chocolate for Valerie – and sit in the sun by the store windows.
Or not in the sun. A few years ago, on one gray, snowy December afternoon, I had an assignment in Kennebunkport. When it was finished, I went to H.B. Provisions, poured myself a cup of coffee, most likely got a sandwich or a bakery treat, and sat at one of the tables in the eating area. I opened my laptop and began writing a news article as Christmas music played festively on the sound system overhead. Even though I was working and even though I was in a place of commerce, I felt peaceful. I felt a momentary reprieve from the pressures of the holidays – the need to finish shopping for gifts, the work crunch that inevitably precedes the time I take off between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Like I said, there are general stores everywhere. The ones that distinguish themselves, though, are the ones that let you stay awhile, that give you an opportunity to unwind, that provide a space for you to read your newspaper, chat with a friend, get some work done, or just watch the world pass by for a moment.
Proof of the appeal of H.B. Provisions over the years can be found in the wide range of its customer base. You have the regulars, of course, the ones who stop by daily or many times a week for their newspaper and coffee, or a few groceries, or a sandwich at lunchtime or a hot meal for dinner. Then you have guys like me – neighboring out-of-towners or tourists – who stop by when they’re in Kennebunkport.
And then you even have former presidents of the United States. The late former President George H.W. Bush was a loyal customer who used to stop by the store for half a cup of coffee and a cinnamon doughnut – his favorite, according to Thorgalsen and Clement. Once, I looked at the pictures that Clement and Thorgalsen have framed and hung on the wall in the store’s dining area. Former President George W. Bush was in one of them – and I realized the picture was pretty much taken in the very spot in which I was standing.
We’ve all been to general stores that mistake “general” for “generic.” There’s nothing wrong with them, of course, if they offer what we need and go the extra mile and provide it with a smile. But the stores that stand out to us – the ones at which we have treasured memories, the ones we hope can stay just the way they are – are the ones that have a special stamp on them, placed there by their owners.
And so I return to the top: Here’s to hoping H.B. Provisions is purchased by an individual who understands what the store means to people and shares the community spirit, philosophy and instincts of the couple who owned it before them.
Shawn P. Sullivan is an award-winning columnist and is a reporter for the York County Coast Star. He can be reached at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: H.B. Provisions in Kennebunkport, ME: a general store and so much more