CAMBRIDGE — The first thing customers see when they walk into the Cambridge General Store is a bulletin board with residents’ business cards and posters pinned to it.

To the left, on the wall behind the cash register, is a photo of a newborn in a pink hat, Ayla Diloy, born May 7.

“She’s our youngest customer,” said Brenda DiMeo, one of the owners of the store and attached hair salon, Shear Madness. Diloy is the first Cambridge baby born since the DiMeo family opened the business Feb. 13.

Near the coffee and candy sections, residents take their time beneath the original tin ceiling and chat with one another. In the span of an hour, every customer who walks through the door knows the other people waiting for their sandwiches or pizza.

Running the only retail business in town is more about maintaining their family and community than making money, DiMeo said.

“Who wants to be rich? This is rich, to have my family together,” she said.

DiMeo owns the business at 7 Main St. with her husband, Dan, and three sons, Tony, 30; Jeremy, 29; and Nathan, 21. They all live nearby, including Jeremy’s daughters Talia, 3, and Alexis, 18 months.

“Being a family, working in here, we don’t take a paycheck,” DiMeo said. “We just meet the bills. We just take enough out of the store to survive.”

It’s a chosen way of life. The family used to live in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, but moved to Cambridge two years ago because they wanted the girls to have a country life, she said.

That country life has come to mean an appreciation of Cambridge’s 530 residents. “The people have been wonderful,” DiMeo said. “I haven’t met any negativity here.”

The feeling seems to be mutual. “Something like this gives the town more of an identity,” said Rusty Cookson, of Cambridge, who came to pick up ham Italian sandwiches with his son. “They don’t drive through and see nothing. They drive through and see a store.”

“They’re nice people, and a store is needed here,” added Van Johnson, of Dexter, who did the store’s electrical work and stopped recently for a bite to eat. “The little stores are having a hard time.”

Added Sharon Stafford, who lived in Cambridge 18 years and now lives in Guilford: “Thank God it’s open. It’s convenient. It’s a good atmosphere to come in to eat, to buy stuff.”

In the six months the store has been open, several tragedies have happened in the area. A quarter-mile away, a resident was killed in July and his adult son has been charged. In nearby Dexter, a woman and her two children were killed in June by her estranged husband. And in May, a father and son drowned at a birthday party in Ripley.

Customers don’t talk in detail about what happened; they express sympathy, DiMeo said. One customer anonymously opened an account at the store for another person going through a difficult time.

“Everybody feels for each other,” she said.

The tough economy is also an issue.

DiMeo tries to do her part. She sometimes barters for services from people in exchange for giving them a haircut, and she said she tries to keep her prices low. A breakfast sandwich is $2.99. A 12-inch pizza with one topping is $5. Two pieces of French toast or pancakes with bacon, ham or sausage is $4.69.

The store also sells the usual milk, soda, bread, beer, cigarettes, ice, orange hunting hats and car care items. There’s a seating area in back, open for group gatherings, with local artwork on the walls.

Brenda DiMeo said they are buying the building from Patti Dowse, of Cambridge, who bought the old building at auction. It had been vacant for a couple years.

Now the store, which reputedly is more than 100 years old, has a new hand-painted sign out front that reads: “The Best Little Store by a Dam Site.” Across the road is Cambridge Pond and just down the street is a small dam.

“It’s a very open, family-like atmosphere,” summed up Jeremiah Merrill, 23, of Palmyra, who babysits DiMeo’s granddaughters and helps in the store. “We’re just down-to-earth people trying to make a living, trying to make the town better.”

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.