Owner Pete Arnold and his sister Patty Cota help a customer at Uncle Pete’s Community Market on Dec. 6. The business and property are for sale, but Arnold wants to find a buyer who shares his vision. (ROBIN CASEY PHOTO)
Uncle Pete’s Community Market, which opened less than two years ago, is for sale.
Don’t worry, said owner Pete Arnold, he won’t sell it to just anyone. It will be someone who has his vision, loves the community, will keep the store’s 15 employees on the payroll, and will continue to sell gas and diesel from the store’s 1989-model pumps.
Why sell now after remodeling the building in March 2021? “I’d like to move on to the next chapter, something not motivated by money,” said Arnold, 62, a Harpswell native who grew up on Potts Point and lives on Ash Point.
“I’ve aged five years in the last two,” Arnold said with his distinctive laugh. “I’d like to go places. I like to travel. The hardest part are the hours. The toughest part? There’s no personal life.”
Arnold hasn’t ruled out working for a new owner, without the stress of keeping the same long hours. “I feel as though, in my role, I took a defunct store and a sad building and turned it into a viable business,” he said. “It’s been very successful. I’m not looking for an investor.”
Arnold said the market, next to the post office at 1220 Harpswell Neck Road, will remain open until he has the right buyer, except in January, when he’s taking a vacation and “doing a deep clean” of the store.
“I’d sell the place to the right person rather than sell it to the wrong person,” he continued. “I want someone who can keep the employees and keep the integrity.” He wants a buyer who shares his “vision for a community.”
Arnold peppered his sentences with the word “community” during a recent morning interview. Watching him hold court at one of three tables in the rear of the 2,179-square-foot market, it’s easy to see why “community” is his mantra. Pete’s is not just a store; it’s a gathering place.
“I think it’s terrible” that he’s selling, said Harpswell Road Commissioner Ron Ponziani, who was eating breakfast at a corner table. “There will be nowhere else to go.” Danny Latham said he comes to the store “sometimes” for coffee, paused, chuckled and added, “like every day,” then sat down across from Ponziani. They hope it doesn’t sell, he said.
Arnold was wearing a bright orange, tie-dyed T-shirt and jeans, with black glasses perched on his balding head. He tossed a fuzzy green ball to Daisy, his black-and-white shih tzu, and spoke to everyone by name at the coffee bar. He doesn’t always know customers’ names but he still greets them with a hearty laugh when he’s behind the counter crowded with candy, sundries and four rotating tiers of pizza and sandwiches on a warmer. Five members of his extended family work with him, sometimes selling lottery tickets and more often handling gas sales.
The market sells typical convenience store fare, with everything from Oreo cookies to Meow Mix cat food, Swain ice cream to craft beer. It has had several occupants since the gray-painted building was constructed in 1960, including a temporary post office while the new one was being built. Arnold bought the former Ship to Shore from Gail Johnson in 2020. Johnson had owned the store since 2009, according to Arnold, but it had been closed for a year.
Arnold’s family has been in Harpswell since 1912. His parents met at the Auburn Colony. A World War I propeller from a three-cylinder biplane called a pusher stretches across the wall over the checkout counter. The plane was piloted by his grandfather, who was forced to land in the area when the engine ran out of fuel. A framed, yellowing front-page newspaper story recounting the incident hangs on another wall.
After the sale, Arnold plans to resume volunteering for Passion for Pets, which places dogs in foster care until they have what he called their “forever home.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Arnold. “I have a very deep and genuine love for Harpswell. It’s in my soul.”
The building and business are listed for $549,000 with Eric Humes, of All Points Realty in Phippsburg.