Sweetest tradition in the Harbor

Fri, 07/21/2023 - 7:00am

    Year after year, century after century, residents and visitors are drawn to Orne’s Candy Store at 11 Commercial St. and there’s no mistaking the sweet smell of chocolate as soon as you enter. 

    The story behind the oldest retail business in the Boothbay area is also the story of two families: the Ornes and the Websters, consecutive owners of the store for the past 138 years.

    The business opened on July 4, 1885, owned by 16-year old Thaddeus Orne and William Weymouth offering bananas, candy and ice cream. Orne later became sole owner and turned the store into an ice cream parlor where he offered strawberry, chocolate and vanilla flavors.

    When Thaddeus Orne learned his employers at an insurance company would not let him own another business at the same time, he handed the store to wife Addie, 28, in 1896. She  stopped selling ice cream and focused on “Bell’s Forkdip chocolate brandy drops,” according to information provided by Orne’s current owner John Webster.

    Addie Orne owned the candy store throughout the next seven decades, even managing to keep the store going despite sugar rationing during World War I and while Thaddeus was away fighting. After his return, the couple ran the store together until he died in 1931.

    “Aunt Addie” as she came to be called expanded the store’s chocolate offerings and continued to run the store. She retired in 1959 at 91 and died two years later.

    The Websters

    “To have and to hold the aforegranted and bargained premises ...to Wollcott D. Webster and Mildred D. Webster ...forever.”

    With these words, found in a 1960 document in the Lincoln County Registry of Deeds, Addie B. Orne transitioned her family’s 75-year ownership of the Boothbay Harbor landmark to another generation of proprietors, the Webster family. 

    Wollcott Webster, a native of Boothbay and Lincoln Academy graduate, continued the traditions, offering penny candy and adding to the inventory of chocolates. He found a Lewiston candy maker and together they created a recipe for fudge which is still the shop’s most popular item.

    In 1978, Wollcott and Mildred’s oldest child John and his wife Jean took over the business. In 1988, the building was updated and a second floor was added.  John’s brother Arthur and wife Faith Foster joined as partners in 2002.

    Because John taught basketball at a New York college, he and Jean lived in the Catskills during the school year and Orne’s closed at the end of summer. With the addition of Arthur and Faith who were local residents, the candy store could remain open “during the shoulder season,” John explained.  

    Staffing problems aren’t a concern at Orne’s. According to John, ”We have the best people working here. For the last 15 years we’ve had local kids and they are loyal.”

    John and Jean moved to Boothbay Harbor full time in 2015 and the candy store stayed open later and later into the fall season. Today, in addition to the summer and fall schedule, the store opens for limited hours during the Boothbay Lights Festival and for Gardens Aglow.

    John and Jean and Arthur and Faith followed the tradition of earlier couples Thaddeus and Addie Orne and Wollcott and Mildred Webster, working together at the candy store.  Looking out the store window from behind the counter, the generations of owners would have watched the area change from horses to cars to buses.

    “I remember in 1952 when there was a circular horse tub in the little triangle of grass at Custom House Square,” John said.

    A new tradition started by John and Arthur in 2004 is the annual rock skipping competition held each year around Windjammer Days.

    Faith died in 2013 and Arthur in 2018. Today, their sons Areth and Adam are partners in the business.

    Jean died in 2021. “I had the best partner in Jean I could possibly have,” John said. “We worked together so well.”

    John loves the business. “There’s no downside and the customers are amazing,” he said. “It’s fun to have people come in and say ‘When I was a child my grandparents brought me here.’ Today they are bringing their own grandchildren.”