S. Fernald’s Country Store did its last day of business in the hands of the Richards family on Saturday, Feb. 3 before selling to four local admirers who raised almost $40,000 in a month to buy it.
An equal partnership of Lincoln County residents – Hootennany Breads owner Derek DeGeer, of Nobleboro; River House manager Jon Merry, of Jefferson; and Damariscotta residents Ramsea Lucas and Alexandra Welch – took ownership this week. A Kickstarter campaign to raise the last 25% of their financing in exchange for discounts and other rewards brought in $39,128, hitting its $35,000 threshold on Jan. 29.
“Talk about riding waves of awe and amazement,” a campaign update said Jan. 29. “We are so overjoyed and proud of this community.”
The four bought Fernald’s from Sumner Fernald “Ricky” Richards IV and wife Moira Rose “Rosie” Richards, the second generation of the Richards family to own the store. The building will remain in the family.
Ricky Richards said his last week of ownership was bittersweet but special, with lots of familiar faces stopping by alongside new visitors drawn by publicity for the fundraising campaign.
“A lot of longtime regulars and friends and family stopped through,” he said. “It was a pretty big finish.”
The couple bought the business in 2016 from Ricky’s parents, Sumner Fernald Richards III and Pam Jackman, who opened Fernald’s in Damariscotta in 1990 when their son was almost 3 years old. Fernald’s moved to Waldoboro from 1999 to 2009, when doors opened in its current location at 50 Main St. in Damariscotta
The business was listed for sale in July 2022 and had been waiting for a buyer ever since. Welch, a Fernald’s regular since middle school and nearly three-time “Eat the Menu” completer, hoped to purchase it to preserve the business as a familiar community space. After eight months of challenges finding investors, she and her fiancee, Lucas, were connected with DeGeer and Merry. All four said plans came together seamlessly from there.
Fernald’s will be closed for a short time and owners plan to reopen soon with Lucas and Welch at the helm of the sandwich side. DeGeer will be in charge of the bakery offerings and Merry plans to take care of the books and cream cheese production.
Sumner Richards said he and Jackman, who agreed the change was bittersweet, will continue to help out at the store for the near future.
“I’m very happy for the group that’s taking over,” he said. “Alex has been a fan of Fernald’s since she was a kid, and it’s great to see someone who wants to keep the essence going. I’m really happy.”
New owners plan some light renovation and expanded seating inside, plus the addition of a small local market providing staple foods. Extra funds from the Kickstarter will go to employees and interior work over the next few months, along with a celebratory party for the public.
Another change ahead is a switch to Hootenanny products from Borealis Bread, the Waldoboro sourdough that has been part of Fernald’s sandwiches since the beginning. A few new sandwiches will also join the menu as a result of the Kickstarter, which sold the option to name an addition in exchange for donation.
Owners also hope to expand hours, opening earlier and closing later, and returning to Sunday operations. Community events are in the works as well.
Preserving the store as a community space has been a priority for the four throughout their fundraising campaign and in their plans for the space. Sumner Richards said his favorite part of the business has always been the community it created.
He is happy to help the new owners who “love what Fernald’s is. Not anything in particular, but what it is as a community center and a place to gather.”
Ricky Richards said the change is bittersweet, but he and Rosie are ready to spend more time together as a young family with their children Sumner “Sunny” Fernald Richards V, now 2, and Tadgh Richards, who is four weeks old.
The family plans to stay in the area, and Ricky Richards said they look forward to seeing the future of the store — plus having some free time to get out in the community more themselves.
“I’m just thankful,” he said. “It’s been a really wonderful ride … I’ve been there for all of it in some way, especially over the last eight years or so. It’s been quite a journey and I have a lot of love for our community near and far.”
His father said he was happy and surprised to see something he and Jackman started with the things they loved 34 years ago still running.
“I want to give them my best wishes as they go forward, to keep it going for another 34 years if they can,” he said.