Nancy and Roger St. Amand remember looking for a space to open a gift shop in downtown Waterville — a challenge because there were so few options.

It was 1981 and Main Street was bustling, with Stern’s Department Store, Dunham’s of Maine, Alvina & Delia, Berry’s Stationers, Carriage House Gifts, Maine Made Shop and other businesses.

The St. Amands finally found a little, 9-by-45-foot spot at 113 Main St. next to Headquarters Hair Styling and moved in Nov. 1 that year.

They were in their 30s and excited to open a new venture, the Paragon Shop.

Paragon Shop owner Nancy St. Amand is selling after 38 years in business in downtown Waterville. St. Amand is shown with scarves at the store on Wednesday. The shop specializes in fashions and jewelry. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“We had handcrafted pottery and we had wooden cutting boards, cards, candles and decorative items,” Nancy St. Amand, now 73, recalled in an interview.

She had studied retail marketing and merchandise retailing at Thomas College, and was ready to put her skills to use. She loved decorating and the shop concept was a good fit.

“It was a perfect place to start,” she said. “I had one employee for the Christmas season. I loved it. I had always worked with the public. I worked at Harris Baking on Main Street when I was in high school. That was great fun.”

The Paragon Shop blossomed and the St. Amands soon needed a larger space. They moved in 1983 to 36 Main St., a former drug store at the corner of Silver Street, which was four times the size of their shop.

They renovated and expanded, but disaster struck in the late 1980s.

“They were putting a new roof on the building and it wasn’t sealed properly,” Roger St. Amand, 73, recalled. “It was raining inside the store.”

A large bowl on display in the shop filled with water, a vision etched in their memories.

“It ruined everything,” Nancy St. Amand said. “The walls had to be replaced, the ceiling had to be replaced, the floors, carpet. We were out of business three or four months.”

At the time, Roger St. Amand was teaching social studies and science at China Middle School, and they spent all their extra time redoing the shop.

“God, we worked hard,” he said. “All new lighting, all new layout.”

But, as Nancy notes, every disaster has a silver lining. “We got to remodel and change things we thought needed to be updated and I changed some of my product mix,” she said. “It was a blessing.”

They added clothing, when clothing stores downtown closed. They brought in more accessories, dishes, glassware, and items for decorating and entertaining. Their daughter, Aime, worked at the shop while in high school and college, and they hired a handful of other employees. Regular customers were loyal  and summer people returned, year after year, and brought friends. Hockey moms of Colby College students popped in.

The St. Amands traveled to trade shows all over the country, finding new merchandise and changing product to keep up with the times and customer needs. Nancy enjoyed being in the shop, planning, organizing and greeting customers.

“I love my customers,” she said. “I have some of the best customers. You get to know them over the years and they became friends.”

Overlooking Main and Silver streets, where outdoor dining is popular, the shop remains a draw for restaurant patrons. It becomes even more viable as Colby builds a $26 million hotel across the street.

The St. Amands had looked forward to seeing the increased activity because of it, though they had planned to retire the following year.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, changing the trajectory of just about everything, including the hotel opening date. With all the uncertainty surrounding the virus, businesses had to change the way they operated, and Colby opted to house students in the hotel space for this school year. The St. Amands decided to be open only three days a week, which, surprisingly, has worked well.

But all good things must come to an end. They are placing the Paragon Shop on the market, hoping a young couple or individual will take over and love it as much as they have over 38 years.

“Everything has its time and space and you pretty much know when you need to move on,” Nancy St. Amand said. “We know it’s time. Roger’s had some health issues and we want to do some traveling. I will miss my customers terribly.”

In the sunny shop Tuesday, they stood among the colorful, carefully placed retail items, recalling the evolution of the business. Earlier, we had met with their business broker and longtime friend, Reg Perry, of Perry Valuation & Forensics, in his office at FirstPark in Oakland.

Perry said it is unusual for a business to be around for 38 years and continue to be fresh and successful.

“It would be nice,” Nancy St. Amand said, “if someone can come in and enjoy the business as much as I have and would carry on, putting their own mark on it.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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