SOUTH CHINA — Since it opened almost 33 years ago, Tobey’s Market has been owned by just three families.

On March 30, the fourth set of owners took possession of the general store at the intersection of Route 3 and Branch Mills Road: Thadius Barber has sold the business to M. A. “Pete” Haskell.

Haskell said his wife, Dawn, daughter Heather and grandsons Cam and Jack will help run the store, while sons Jesse, Kevin and Darrell concentrate on the family’s other businesses — farming, trucking and fuel.

Barry McCormick, of Unity, is managing Tobey’s. He’s a 20-year veteran of the retail business and a longtime Barber family friend.

McCormick sold his stores on School Street in Unity and Main Street in Fairfield before he retired two years ago.

When he learned that Barber, whom he watched grow up and take over his parents’ businesses, was selling Tobey’s, he came out of retirement to help with the transition.

McCormick said that to make Tobey’s more like the country store it once was, he and Haskell will add grocery lines, including organic food and milk and more produce.

They will “absolutely” buy locally and work with area farmers, he said.

Other planned changes include a redesign of the front of the store to make the checkouts more convenient.

But, McCormick added, “I’m not meaning to say Thad didn’t do a good job, because he did. (With) new owners, there’s always changes.”

Before Haskell learned Tobey’s was for sale, he planned to buy the former Frontier Village market farther west on Route 3. With the necessary town permit, he plans to move the M. A. Haskell Fuel Company office to Tobey’s, as he had planned to move it to Frontier Village.

Kempton Tobey built the original Tobey’s Market, which opened in November 1978, according to his son Robin. Kempton Tobey still lives just down the street from the store.

The Tobeys found running their construction business plus the store too challenging, Robin Tobey said.

In June 1982, they sold the store to Jack and Sally Skillings, who knew it from their years as summer residents in adjacent Palermo.

Robin Tobey said the Skillings sold to Tom and Rita Barber of China in 1992. When Tom Barber retired, his son, Thad, took over.

Robin Tobey said his father is pleased that another local family will succeed the Barbers.

Thad Barber owns two other convenience stores on Route 3, Fieldstone Quick Stop and The Market and Deli. McCormick said Barber plans to keep those businesses, and confirmed rumors of impending changes, which he declined to detail last week.

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