We whizzed along Route 32 in Windsor, approaching Hussey’s General Store, which advertises guns, wedding gowns and cold beer.

“Have you ever been to Hussey’s?” I called to Evalyn, who was in the back seat.

She never had, so I insisted we stop.

Evalyn is my good friend who is 79 and has more energy than all four of us who were in the car that day, including my husband, Phil, and sister, Jane. We were headed to the coast to show Evalyn the Pemaquid lighthouse, have lobster at Shaw’s Wharf in New Harbor and take a side trip to Round Pond.

Evalyn was enthralled with Hussey’s and said she was going to go back there to shop one day.

The store, which has only improved with age, carries everything from wood stoves to groceries and new and used books.

When I was a girl growing up in Skowhegan, my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Carl lived in Windsor and always bought our Christmas gifts at Hussey’s. I remember being amazed, at age 12, that a classy navy blue and white sweater could come from a general store in a small town.

On our trip to the coast, Evalyn ran around Hussey’s, admiring the kitchen stuff, blue glassware, which she collects, greeting cards and food on the first floor, clothing, guns and an entire bridal department on the second and hardware in the basement.

I bought a carbon monoxide detector, perused the shelves of paint, eyed the copper weathervanes perched by the staircase and insisted Evalyn climb onto the Big Daddy fold-up chair near the camping gear so I could snap a picture.

A petite woman, Evalyn needed a footstool to get onto the chair, which was three times the size of a normal one. The store clerk, enjoying our plans for a photo shoot, happily retrieved a footstool, and there Evalyn sat in the giant chair, grinning for the camera.

We in Maine are lucky to have stores like Hussey’s, Renys and Marden’s Surplus & Salvage, which provide us with just about everything we need to survive in this state, all in one store.

Where else except at a Renys store can you buy a pair of Carhartt’s for half price and on the next rack nab a handful of tennis shirts for three bucks apiece? And in a nearby aisle find hoes, rakes, dishes and gourmet chocolate?

At Marden’s, where they tell you you should have bought it when you saw it, you can furnish your entire house, as well as your kitchen cupboards. They’ve got sofas and carpets, dining room and bedroom sets, shoes, groceries and 50-cent greeting cards, not to mention nails and screws by the pound, books and lawn furniture.

I’m forever kicking myself when I visit Jane’s house and sit under her sturdy blue patio umbrella she bought at Marden’s a few years ago for $30 that I didn’t buy one too when I saw it.

The thing about these stores is that they always have new stuff, so visiting one is as much a treasure hunt as it is a foray into finding something you need at a decent price. And you never know what you’re going to find there.

A few years ago, for instance, Marden’s had a whole display of real stuffed bears and other animals for sale. No kidding.

For my friends who visit from out of state, Marden’s and Renys are a must-stop and rank right up there with the Colby Museum of Art, which charges no admission (now there’s a bargain).

The stores are doing something right in their ability to understand what we Mainers want and need and at a price that doesn’t break our pocketbooks.

It may sound funny to people from away, but the businesses also provide us with much-needed entertainment during the dark winter months when there’s not much to do except stoke the fires and watch the snow come down. What happens when its 20 below with no sun in sight? The stores’ parking lots are full.

I remember years ago perusing the aisles at Renys in Madison and running into the elder Bob Reny, gone several years now. He bore a large smile as he chatted informally with customers, genuinely interested in who they were and what they were looking for. His gentle nature spoke volumes. And Mickey Marden, also gone, was a familiar, friendly figure at his Waterville store, always happy to engage patrons.

These family-owned Maine businesses and how they operate, in my opinion, are part of what makes Maine so special.

And the endearing thing is, they don’t try to be charming; they just are.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected].

For previous Reporting Aside columns, click here.

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