AUGUSTA — At 90 years old, with an oxygen tank at his side and surrounded by rocks, minerals, fossils and jewelry of all kinds, Levi “Sonny” Chavarie still loves to sell the items his late wife, Priscilla, loved to collect.

And he is still ready to make you “a deal you can’t refuse” at Sonny’s Museum and Rock Shop in downtown Augusta. Make him a reasonable offer, whether it is for a polished stone, a piece of clear quartz, a geode filled with sparkling crystals or the whole business, and he just may take it.

“I’d like to sell the business, and I’d like to see it keep going (with a new owner) if I could,” Chavarie said recently from his seat inside the Water Street shop lined with display cases and boxes full of rocks, gems and other decorative and collectible items, some of it covered in a light layer of dust.

Chavarie’s landlord, Richard Parkhurst, a frequent advocate of revitalizing the downtown, also wants to see the rock shop remain in business.

“It’s a good asset, it has worked out for me, and I think it has worked out for the street,” said Parkhurst, owner of multiple Water Street buildings downtown. “What he needs is someone who has got interest in that to come in and learn the trade from Sonny. He’d be a great mentor for someone. He has got a great inventory and a wealth of knowledge. If someone came along who was sincere about getting into it, I think they could work something out.”

Chavarie, who earlier this year was out of his store while he was treated for health problems at VA Maine Healthcare Systems at Togus, is clearly well beyond the age most people retire. For that matter, he was old enough to retire when he first opened the 226 Water St. shop four years ago. He says he opened the shop because he thought it’d be good to be in the downtown so he could sell off some of the inventory acquired over the years and because he simply couldn’t afford to retire. But he also thought it would be good for downtown to have a unique shop to bring people there.

“I’ve got a truckload of inventory,” he said. “I’m not retiring. I’d like to be here one more year and sell as much inventory as I can.”

Chavarie, of Winthrop, is at the store every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Sunday, when it is closed.

For many years his late wife, Priscilla S. Chavarie, who died in June 2010, ran the former Winthrop Mineral Shop on U.S. Route 202 first with her husband, Stearns J. Bryant, until his death in 1973, and then with Chavarie until the shop burned in 1988.

After the fire, the couple ran a mineral and gem business out of their Winthrop home.

Then he opened up shop on Water Street in Augusta in 2011. He said he has been pleased with the amount of business the shop has gotten since opening. He said rock, mineral and fossil collectors have come to the shop from around the world.

“It has been terrific. I haven’t had a bad week since I started,” he said of the downtown location.

Tobias Parkhurst, Richard Parkhust’s son, who also owns buildings downtown and is chairman of the Augusta Downtown Association board of directors, said Sonny’s Museum and Rock Shop has been good for the downtown.

“He’s one of the more active merchants on the street. He’s an enthusiastic supporter of everything downtown,” he said. “The two biggest things to have in a downtown are one, a specialty store that attracts people, like Sonny’s has done, and two, food. Specialty retail is perfect for downtown. It’s attractive to people who happen to walk by, and it is also capable of bringing people downtown in a way a non-specialty shop might not. So something like a candy shop or a coffee shop. The type of thing you’d walk by and be interested in going into, like at Sonny’s.”

Tobias Parkhurst said he remembers going into the Winthrop Mineral Shop when he was a kid and knows a lot of people who buy Christmas gifts at Sonny’s. He’s also seen the gregarious Chavarie pull people in off the street into his shop.

There have been tough times too, such as a legal battle over the ownership of the items at the shop following his wife’s death.

In a lawsuit filed in January 2012, but settled out-of-court a month later, members of his late wife’s family claimed Chavarie didn’t have the right to sell the jewelry, gems and other items at the shop, because those items belonged to her estate, not him.

However, an agreement signed by both sides stipulates the inventory is Chavarie’s to sell.

He said he still occasionally hears from people who see the newspaper story about the lawsuit on the Internet. He wants those people to know he does indeed have the right to sell the items, as specified in the settlement.

“I’m not selling stuff here that belongs to the family,” Chavarie said.

Surrounded by rocks and minerals and photographs and newspaper articles about his late wife, Priscilla, Chavarie is quick to agree she was the biggest rockhound of the two, though he quickly came to love the hobby and business through their 34 years together.

Her love of it is one reason he’d like to see the shop continue even after he retires, he said.

“Before I met her, a rock was a rock,” he said. “A lot of the stuff here my wife bought out West. She used to like to buy, and I like to sell. Priscilla, she was strong about teaching children about rocks and fossils and minerals. Some of those kids went on to become geologists. Kids are amazed at this store. I give them a free stone when they come in. They love it.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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