It’s been 15 years since Janet and Oliver Cusano rode into town and became the proud owners of Southport General Store. They first saw the store the weekend of July 4, 2004, and within two months sold their house in California, moved across the country and into the apartment upstairs, and opened for business.
It was meant to be, Janet said.
Since then, they’ve transformed the business from convenience-cum-hardware store to community center of the island. One customer said the Cusanos created a Southport institution.
Today it’s hard to remember when the Gift Barn was simply a storage barn in bad shape, and when there was not a not parking lot, dining room, wine room and commercial kitchen. The Cusanos have made many changes and have heard no complaints. “When we built the wine room, no one knew we were doing it,” Oliver recalled. One day, the contractor knocked a hole through into the store, and there it was, all painted and open for business.”
The store has become known for its lunch foods, pastries, pies, scones and other baked goods; the early morning breakfast pizza and coffee; Thursday burgers, magic tricks, the Seal of Approval; and, of course, the fine wines—all 350 of them.
It’s common knowledge the Cusanos have been ready to sell for a couple of years, but when a buyer was found this spring, residents were worried. Would the store still be open through the winter? Would lunch still be lunch? Would the grilled cheese sandwich with onions still be available? It seems the fears were unnecessary.
New owners Todd and Barbara Leland of Southport bought it to save it. Scott Larson and the Midcoast Hospitality Group will manage it for them, and the new on-site manager will be Nancy Long, a lifelong resident of Boothbay who currently runs the Russell House B&B.
The store will still be open year round, with the same hours. Nancy said they might add some new sandwiches, but the old favorites aren’t going anywhere. She’s also hoping to start offering home-baked bread. But the Gift Barn and Burger Thursdays will continue, and wine will still be a priority.
As for the Cusanos, after they hang up their aprons at the end of the summer, they’ll be staying on Southport. They’re also looking forward to traveling some.
Said Janet, “After 15 years of living in Maine, we’d like to see it!”
But they’ll miss the store and its customers. “Everyone has a story and they want to tell it to you,” Oliver said. “It’s like you become the center of the island.”
There’s no question Janet and Oliver will be missed but it seems their legacy—Southport General Store and Gift Barn—is here to stay.