WATERVILLE — A nearly 30-year-old business is passing from one family to another as the Karter brothers look toward retirement, with hopes of being a part of flowering downtown revitalization efforts.

Fred and Joe Karter have reached an agreement to sell the prominent block of properties they own along Front Street to Jeff Damon, who runs eight convenience stores throughout the state with the help of his family.

The brothers are selling 52-60 Front St., which includes Joka’s Discount Beverages and an old Victorian-era house that is rented out to businesses, as well as the Temple Street Tavern, which is connected to Joka’s. The real estate closing is expected to occur sometime in the beginning of the new year, and neither Damon nor the Karters are disclosing the amount of the sale.

“It’s nice to see family businesses continue on and be sold to other families,” Damon said in an interview Thursday. “It’s important to capitalize on the reputation they built here and keep it going. Stuff like that matters to me.”

Damon, 54, plans to keep Joka’s running as it is now as well as expand its wholesale liquor distribution services, he said. He plans to hire a salesperson for wholesale services and to look at expanding the store’s product lines. However, Damon said “when we change hands, we will not be continuing Temple Street Tavern.” The tavern employs about five people, Fred Karter said.

Damon also owns Damon’s College Quick Stop on West River Road in Waterville. A big part of his decision to buy Joka’s in downtown Waterville was the revitalization projects the city and Colby College are working on.

The Alfond Foundation and Colby College each pledged $10 million in grants toward a special fund for revitalization in October. Colby has bought five vacant downtown buildings and plans to redevelop them, as well a corner of The Concourse to build a housing complex for students.

“We are extremely excited to be part of what is happening with downtown Waterville,” Damon said.

The agreement between the Karters and Damon also stipulates that he keep all 12 employees at Joka’s, including manager Carolee DeRoche, who was been with the store through a number of owners.

“We’re in the business to hire people, not let people go,” Damon said.

The businesses that now rent space from the Karters’ properties will continue renting from Damon.

Fred and Joe, now 67 and 66 respectively, said they are selling the properties because they’re at retirement age.

“We want to enjoy the last years we have,” Fred Karter said.

The brothers bought Joka’s in 1987 and Joe has run it since then, with Fred working as the “silent partner.”

“Joe’s done all the work to build the business to what it is today,” Fred said.

Joe said the business deal is emotional for him because of all the time and effort he’s put into the business.

“This store has been a labor of love,” he said. “I look forward to coming to work 95 percent of the time.”

The bar that Fred owns and manages, Temple Street Tavern, was formerly owned by Gubby Karter, his brother, for 43 years. It was known as the Bob-In and was notorious among residents and law enforcement. The bar was infamous for its reputation, which stemmed from incidents such as a 2012 stabbing, a 2009 cocaine raid and a 2005 shooting. The bar also was known for the topless dancers it hosted for 11 years. The city eventually shut it down.

After changing hands, the tavern still has been a hot spot for fights. In November 2015, eight people were arrested during a fight outside the tavern where police used a stun gun and pepper spray.

Damon said that’s why he thinks it’s so important that another local family is taking over the business. They understand what all that toil means.

“It’s not just a brick and mortar thing with people,” Damon said, referring to the business. “It’s a living thing.”

Damon runs his stores along with his partner, his brother Rusty Damon, as well as other family members, such as his stepmother, nephews and daughters.

“Without these people, we can’t expand,” he said. “They mean everything.”

While he won’t continue running the tavern, that’s not to say Damon won’t reopen the space as a different type of bar or lounge later on, Fred said. Damon said there are a lot of opportunities with the new businesses and buildings coming to downtown Waterville.

Damon said he has been in the business for 34 years and owns two stores similar to Joka’s in Augusta and Skowhegan.

He’s also applying for an agency liquor license for his new store in Bangor, which would allow him to sell hard liquor in addition to beer and wine. He currently employs 125 people.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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