AUGUSTA — It’s a bittersweet moment for Marianne and Kevin Butak.

Since 2002, when they bought Bagel Mainea sight unseen, they have put their own stamp on the small bagel shop on Western Avenue and built a loyal following for their bagels, their sandwiches and the Sunday morning jazz.

And now they are letting it go.

Late last year, after some consideration and deliberation, they listed the business for sale with a commercial business broker.

“We were mostly driven by the fact that we were hands-on with the business,” Marianne Butak, 64, said last week, sitting at a table in a quiet moment in the shop. “If there were a blip with the bakers, Kevin would have to step in. And Kevin has reached the point where he couldn’t do the overnight bakes anymore.”

At the same time, Chris Low and Lucinda Stephens, both 57, were considering their options. They wanted to choose a state to move to, and they were looking for a business they could run as they were considering the next phase of their life.

Low’s background is in the food and beverage business and construction, Stephens had retired from the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, after more than 30 years.

Maine, where Low had spent time as a child visiting family and with its outdoor activities, ultimately hooked them. And the business, with its established reputation and loyal following, caught their attention.

“We did a lot of research,” Low said, sitting across from Butak. “The other (businesses) we looked at throughout Maine just didn’t seem to have that connection with the community and the success rate, the overall great reviews and everything we heard.”

They also had the help of a commercial broker.

As it happens, the broker working for both of them is Dennis Wheelock, a commercial real estate and business broker at Magnusson Balfour Commercial Brokers, a division of Keller Williams Realty.

When the Butaks contacted him, he had already been working with Low and Stephens.

“Normally,” Wheelock said, “the average time to sell a business is 18 months. We listed it and put it under contract and closed in two months.”

While the speed of the sale might be unusual, the sale itself is part of a trend of business owners reaching the age of retirement and considering their options.

Maine carries the distinction of being the state with the oldest median age, and with more and more residents reaching retirement age, that is driving changes in business ownership.

“We are starting to see a bit more of a trend,” Wheelock said. “As people who have been in business for a number of years get into their 60s, that’s when I get calls.”

Compared to a few years ago, he’s seen an uptick in the number of people who want to talk to him about selling a business.

“I have good relationships with banks and CPAs and attorneys,” he said. “What we find is there are very few people who will sit down and plan out succession. It’s almost like doing your will or planning your funeral.”

Based on the Butaks’ own experience — when they bought the business it had been for sale for three years — they had thought selling would take a year or possibly two. And by then, they would be able to run the bagel shop until they were ready for relaxation and retirement.

“My daughter thought she was going to take this place over, and we said, ‘No, you want to have a life,'” Butak said.

Kevin had been working at the shop seven days a week and Marianne had been working four days a week. Even when they weren’t there, they were on call to fill in when someone called in sick or was not available.

When the Butaks got the call that Low and Stephens were interested, Marianne was caught off-guard.

“We hadn’t even come to the conclusion that this would happen,” she said.

Now that it has, the Butaks have been working with Low and Stephens on the transition during January.

“Marianne and Kevin have been doing a great job for us and helping us,” Low said.

Getting to this point required an enormous effort on the part of Low and Stephens. In November, they had to pack up and sell two houses, one in South Carolina and the other in Pennsylvania, move to Maine, find a place to live short term and a place to store their belongings. And in the middle of that, on the day the deal closed, Stephens’s daughter gave birth in Pennsylvania, making Stephens a first-time grandmother.

“This is a big transition for us,” Low said. “This is where we want to be.”

Part of the reason they bought the business, he said, was that the Butaks had made it successful. The Butaks had taken the greater risk, buying it when it was less successful.

“Everything that’s successful here, we’ll continue with,” Low said. “We’ll possibly grow some wholesale, catering, things like that. We want to stay involved in the community.”

There might, he said, even be a little Bagel Mainea van driving around.

Marianne, who still gets emotional over the transition, said she’s thankful for the customers who came in every day and made it a success.

“It has given so much to my life. It’s made it so much richer,” she said. “It’s better to be sad than not have a feeling about this.”

That’s something that Low said they want to continue.

“We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to stay here and hopefully have the business for as long as we can,” he said. “We’re going to see what we can do with it.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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