FAIRFIELD — On the days when it is Larry Hillman’s turn to make doughnuts, he arrives at Hillman’s Bakery at 4:30 in the morning. In the quiet before the bakery opens, Hillman, the baker and owner, starts the plethora of baked goods the storefront provides. 

First up are the doughnuts, then come the breads, and other yeasted treats like cinnamon rolls. Next are the cookies, and after that it depends on what is most in demand and needs to be replenished — anything from pies to cakes to brownies to eclairs.  

As he works the rest of the world comes alive, the store opening up, the commuters stopping in for coffee and a treat, and the day carries on.  

Located at 16 Western Ave. in Fairfield, Hillman’s Bakery was opened over 60 years ago. The bakery is open Tuesday through Friday from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. Founded by Lawrence Hillman, the bakery is a family endeavor and a Fairfield institution, and the store is now run by Lawrence’s son Larry. 

“I’ve enjoyed it mostly — there are times that it’s hard,” Hillman said. “There are a lot of hats to wear in a small business.” 

Originally from Waterville, Lawrence Hillman learned to bake from his mother, and enjoyed it when he was young. During World War II, he was in the Navy, and had a baking position.  

After the war, he used the GI Bill to fund his education at the American Baking Institute in Chicago, but was drawn back to Maine. He lived in Portland for a while, before returning to central Maine.  

It’s hard to say exactly when Hillman’s Bakery officially opened, Larry Hillman said. His father started the business out of his home, baking and delivering orders when he wasn’t working, until he was able to open up the physical store.  

The bakery building was originally a garage for the house, Hillman said. His father converted it into the bakery, and expanded it over time.  

Larry Hillman grew up in the house attached to the bakery, and right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of it all. His father started the bakery around the same time he was born, and while to some it may seem like the equivalent of growing up in a candy store, for Hillman it’s hard to compare it to anything else.  

“That’s all I knew, I didn’t really know any different,” Hillman said. 

Like many small businesses, the pandemic has been a difficult time for the bakery. The business closed for a little over six weeks last year, Hillman said. 

Larry Hillman bakes a few batches of whoopie pies Friday at his family bakery, Hillman’s Bakery in Fairfield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

And even once the bakery itself was open again, with most people staying home the business’s usual stream of people stopping by on their way to and from work was greatly diminished.  

“When we reopened it was OK,” Hillman said. “Things were slower. We certainly lost a lot of the bigger items that nobody’s had parties or big weddings.” 

Slowly but surely, customers are returning. On an average Thursday afternoon this month there is a steady stream of people coming and going, picking up orders and asking about seasonal pies.  

Hillman said that small orders are on the rise, but they’re still not getting those large orders — dozens of doughnuts for the office or spreads for parties — like they used to. But hopefully with warm weather and lifting restrictions, that too will change over the summer months. 

The other struggle with the pandemic has been hiring. In the past, Hillman said, he’d share a job posting around and have it filled in two weeks. Now, he’s been looking for bakers for weeks and can’t find anybody. 

Hillman took over as owner of the bakery after his father died suddenly from a heart attack 28 years ago. Hillman had been working at the bakery at the time, and was already doing some management work, but there was still much he didn’t know. 

“It was so sudden too that there were a lot of things I hadn’t done or I didn’t know how he did it or stuff like that that I had to work out,” Hillman said.  

While the transition was rough, Hillman carried on, determined to continue the family business. 

When it comes to the bakery’s next chapter, it’s up in the air. Hillman said that as he gets older he can’t help but think about retiring, and his own children are adults with their own nonbaking related careers. 

He’s always sort of hoped that he would hire a baker who would invest in the business. 

“I think well, maybe this time I’ll find somebody that shows a really good interest and they’ll stick with it and learn for two or three years and then they want to take over, but it hasn’t happened yet,” Hillman said. 

As it stands, he hasn’t really looked into anything concrete about retiring and is keeping his sights set on riding out the end of the pandemic. 

Hillman first started working in the bakery when he was around 13. Far from the excitement of the baking, he was tasked with cleaning floors and wiping counters. But over time he worked his way up to get to actually make the baked goods. 

Larry Hillman, owner of Hillman’s Bakery, stands at the front counter of his bakery Friday. Photos and articles about the bakery’s family history, which was previously run by his father, are seen in back. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

In high school, Hillman would often get up and work before heading off to school — making the early morning doughnuts for commuters. Fairly often, he’d bring a dozen or so doughnuts with him to school, and during lunch him and his friends from the Key Club would sell them to other students as a fundraiser. 

While he grew up around baking, taking over the family business wasn’t always on Hillman’s radar. 

After high school, he went to the University of Maine to study electrical engineering. But this was in the early days of computers, and Hillman saw many of his friends in the field go into factory work — but he didn’t like the idea of doing the same thing all day every day.  

So he came back to Fairfield and was pulled back into the baking business. 

“It’s different because you don’t do the same thing — where we have such a variety of stock, we don’t do the same thing all day,” Hillman said. “We don’t just make pies for eight hours straight.” 

Looking back now, taking over his father’s business and returning to baking seems almost inevitable, but it’s hard to say for sure. There are challenges to a small business, but it’s clear that Hillman’s Bakery is a local favorite.  

So Hillman continues on, as the customers come and go, and there are more doughnuts to be made. 

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