OAKLAND — Sometimes Dan Swett steps out from his electric supply store to sell some dance shoes. Amber Worcester and Jess Swett are just as likely to fill a contractor’s supply order as they are to sell a leotard.

After approximately 15 years operating a convenience store together, the trio is just beginning in a new venture. They run Oakland Supply Co. and Center Stage Boutique off Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland.

“We wanted to get out of working mornings, nights, weekends, holidays,” Dan Swett said.

Dan Swett, 57, is the owner of the building and both businesses for legal reasons, but the work is split with Jess Swett and Amber Worcester. They share office space that connects the two businesses and can monitor both storefronts from their desks.

Dan Swett purchased Sweet Dreams in Smithfield in 2003, and Worcester found him through word of mouth to operate the ice cream shop. At the end of 2005, the store added a full-service convenience store, and Dan Swett and Jess Swett, Dan’s niece, came to work there full-time.

After about 15 years working what the three describe as countless hours, with only Christmas Day off each year, Dan Swett sold the store, now known as Tri Pond Variety, in February 2019, but the three colleagues knew they wanted to stay in business together.

Dan Swett, from left, his niece Jess Swett and Amber Worcester walk the floor of the newly opened Oakland Supply on Thursday. The building, located at 4 Electric Ave., also houses Center Stage Boutique. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Dan Swett, a lifelong Oakland resident, in 2017 purchased the land where the Oakland Supply and Center Stage Boutique now occupy an $800,000 building. Ground was broken for the building in September 2019 and includes rental space for another business.

“We discussed it with Dan and we were at the store and we knew we all kind of wanted to get out of that,” Worcester said. “He’s an electrician, so he wanted to do the electrical part, and we mentioned that there’s a really high need for the shoes and the apparel and everything.”

 

MEETING THE LOCAL NEED 

A lifelong dancer and former cheerleading coach at Messalonskee High School, the 37-year-old Worcester knew opening Center Stage Boutique would fill a niche. Further, her two stepdaughters did dance and cheer.

Jess Swett, 34, danced for only a year, but her daughter, Madison Cochran, a Winslow Junior High School sixth grader, is a gymnast. Jess Swett always had trouble finding apparel locally.

“It’s wicked hard to find her leotards,” Jess Swett said. “I know a lot of the other gymnastics moms were having the same problem.”

Dance Warehouse in Hallowell closed some years ago, so there was no place to purchase dance and cheer goods in central Maine, and Dance Warehouse didn’t have any cheer or gymnastics gear.

Jess Swett, left, her uncle Dan Swett, right, and Amber Worcester, operate Center Stage Boutique and Oakland Supply, at 4 Electric Ave. in Oakland. All three can handle matters for both businesses. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“We figured if we did all three, there’s a need for all of them,” Worcester said.

Before opening Center Stage Boutique, Worcester and Jess Swett began selling some of their wares from home and at Studio One in Oakland, where Worcester dances regularly.

Center Stage Boutique supplies dance and gymnastics leotards, dance and cheering shoes, leggings, shorts, mugs, tank tops, warmups, bags, glitter and accessories. They first opened in March, but closed after a couple weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic and then reopened in September.

Center Stage Boutique opened earlier than Oakland Supply Co. to supply local studios for recital season, but the pandemic shut down most of that.

“We had a good start,” Jessica Swett said.

“And then everything just stopped,” Worcester added. “When everything shut down at the end of March, we shut down.”

After spending the summer planning, Center Stage reopened in September along with studios and business has been steady, consistent, leaving Worcester and Jess Swett hopeful for the future. They also are taking suggestions from customers on what to carry.

Jess Swett, left, and Amber Worcester check stock Thursday in the shoe department of the Center Stage Boutique, which, along with Oakland Supply, are now open at 4 Electric Ave. in Oakland. The boutique carries shoes for tap, ballet and Jazz dancers. They also carry cheering items. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” Worcester said. “A lot of people come in and are really excited to see us here and try things on.”

An electrician for 40 years, Dan Swett knew there was a need in the area for a retail electrical supply store. Standard Electric left the area a decade ago and other big box hardware stores don’t have focused inventory for electricians.

Oakland Supply Co., which opened in late October, supplies electric needs to individuals and contractors alike. There’s the hardware display with a dizzying assortment of nuts, bolts and screws. There’s PVC pipe aplenty. Even with the pandemic, demand is not an issue. There is backup with ordering, but Swett knows he will have customers.

“If you’re an electrician, you’re driving either 20 miles to Augusta to Rockingham Electrical Supply or 30 miles north to Gilman’s to buy parts,” Dan Swett said. “So if you forgot to buy parts for the day, you’ve got a lot of time invested just to drive.”

Dan Swett spends 75 hours per week at the store. Worcester and Jess Swett work about 45 hours weekly.

Dan Swett organizes inventory while working Thursday at the recently opened Oakland Supply at 4 Electric Ave. The building also houses Center State Boutique. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

 

CONFIDENCE MOVING FORWARD 

Despite a less than favorable economic situation due to the pandemic, all three are excited about the future. They say they have no regrets.

“Well, there’s $50,000 worth of shoes in there, so it better go well,” Dan Swett joked.

Oakland was an attractive place to buy and build because tax rates are lower than in Waterville, he said, and being on Kennedy Memorial Drive gives the businesses plenty of exposure.

“It kind of worked out OK,” Worcester said. “We’re slowly getting going rather than super busy and not being able to keep up.”

As of now, they’re the only employees. The goal is to hire some front-end salespeople so the management trio can focus on purchasing and business management. They hope the businesses are the last places they work before they retire.

“Once it gets rolling, we’ll be able to get a couple people out on the electrical side and get somebody doing the girls’ stuff, so they can concentrate on buying stuff,” Dan Swett said. “You can make more money by going out and promoting.”

To boot, the building is technically on Electric Avenue.

Who would’ve thought Eddy Grant would be proud of a street in Oakland, Maine?

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