DAMARISCOTTA, Maine — There is a waiting list of folks who want to sing the Renys theme song - synonymous with the "adventure" of shopping at Renys.
John Reny puts it this way: "You know, shopping is entertainment. I mean, how entertaining is it to go in to the same box store with the same thing in every place."
Robert Reny Sr., John's father, got his start at Senters Department Store in Damariscotta in 1948 – and quickly figured out he could launch his own store. And so he did - right across the street. He was a natural-borne marketer. "He said he had so little merchandise he took all the empty boxes and put them on the shelves so that it looked full. You want it to look full," says John.
RH opened his store in October 1949, and did OK through Christmas – but in the dead of winter, the customers just stopped showing up. So, he took his show on the road. "He put all kinds of merchandise in his car, and went down through the peninsulas going door to door, and asking ‘do you need any underwear? Or socks..or shoes." Whatever. And he said he didn’t sell much, drank a lot of coffee, had a lot of pie, and he made a lot of friends. He had the gift of gab. He could talk to anybody." His strategy won him friends, and eventually customers, and RH began to build a customer base.
After opening the Damariscotta store, he focused his efforts on Bridgton, opening the second store there. Around this time, shopping centers were beginning to emerge, pulling shoppers from the downtowns.
"Buildings were cheap. So he could go in to a Gardiner or a Farmington or Dexter, Madison, and buy a building – cheap. And open a store. And in most cases, it really re-invigorated the town because now you had something that brought people in," says John. RH focused his considerable energy on finding deals and cutting out the middleman.
No two Renys stores are alike – that’s part of the adventure. The original Damariscotta clothing store was later joined by Renys Underground across the street – formerly a pool hall and a bowling alley and now two floors of pretty much everything you can imagine – including grilled cheese and milkshakes.
Time might be standing still behind the counter, but nothing stands still at the Renys Newcastle warehouse - 130,000 square feet of chips and wading pools, dish soap and Christmas ornaments. Renys buyers are always on the hunt for a good deal, and there is new merchandise showing up in every store – every day.
John’s daughter and nephew have now stepped in to running the business, and the whole family loves being part of the fabric of Maine. "There’s a Reny Way, the Reny way. I don’t know how to explain it, but there’s a Reny Way. You take care of your customers, you take care of your suppliers, take care of your employees, and just make it work. And people love us. It’s really, it’s really an honor."