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Keep ME Open: The Store Ampersand reinvents itself to keep its lights on

The specialty store in Orono has been open for more than 40 years and has not closed its doors since the coronavirus started.

ORONO, Maine — Coffee and freshly made baked goods- that is what most customers get at The Store Ampersand in Orono.

Roberta Bradson says the store has been there for more than 40 years, but she has run it for over 20 years. The specialty store has managed to stay open since the beginning of the coronavirus.

"We were able to stay open because we were selling so many essentials," said Bradson.

"When COVID-19 came, it just before graduation weekend, Mother's Day weekend...which is our biggest day of the year, so that devastated us. We lost all that," said Bradson.

The University of Maine is less than a mile away from the specialty store. Many of the frequent customers are college students who have mostly left town.

"That's why I'm worried about the fall, that campus has to open," said Bradson.

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The Store Ampersand has changed what it has to offer, besides coffee and baked goodies, fresh produce and essential groceries are what you can also find at the store.

"We never ran out of toilet paper," said Bradson.

Toilet paper and flour are two of the main items that supermarkets still struggle to get, but The Store Ampersand has them. Besides that, they had wine, beer, fresh produce, gifts, specialty foods, and even puzzles.

"We had somebody looking for puzzles one day so I said 'ok, let's bring in a few puzzles,' we sold over 100 puzzles since that one suggestion," said Bradson.

Bradson tells NEWS CENTER Maine the grocery business is now running along the lines of a convenience store.

"In our last six or eight weeks, we've quadrupled our grocery business and what we order," said Bradson.

Jared Talbot is a frequent customer.

"Roberta just gets to know everyone. That's one of the really cool things about the store. I feel really known here," said Talbot.

Cute 'Thank You', 'Thinking of You', and 'Hang In There' cards that will brighten anyone's day during this crazy pandemic.

Roberta helps her customers by keeping track of community members who pay in advance by using a paper ledger.

"We are doing curbside. They call us with a list, we pack everything up, we bring everything to their car or we deliver it to their house," said Bradson.

"At that time, I was just getting good coffee," said Talbot.

Now Talbot is leaving with an entire grocery bag.

"Making dozens and dozens of cookies every single day and selling out close to 200...down to one batch every other day," said Bradson.

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