Starting this summer, S. Fernald’s Country Store in Damariscotta will have a new manager with a familiar name.
Sumner Fernald “Ricky” Richards IV will take over the operation of the store from his father, Sumner Fernald Richards III. The tentative date for the handoff is July 1.
“I’m just ready to step back and retire,” the elder Sumner said. “It’s time for me to see what’s next. You can’t open the next door until you close one behind you.”
Sumner said a large part of his decision to turn over the business was the fact that Ricky wanted to take over as manager.
“I didn’t want it to feel like an obligation,” Sumner said. “It’s something he wants to do.”
Ricky said he is looking forward to managing the store that has been a large part of his life.
“It’s a really unique opportunity to be a part of something like this,” Ricky said. “The fact that we’re a second-generation family-owned business is pretty neat, and I’m really excited about it.”
Named for Ricky’s great-grandfather, S. Fernald’s Country Store has been around almost as long as Ricky has been alive. Sumner and Pam Jackman, Ricky’s mother, opened the store next to Renys on Main Street in Damariscotta in June 1990.
Sumner said he wanted to open an old-time, country store similar to the one he grew up down the street from.
“I had all these memories of going there with my returnables and getting penny candy, and I’m glad I’ve been able to bring something similar to the community.” Sumner said.
Less than a month after the store opened, it served as the location for Ricky’s 3rd birthday celebration.
“Both of our boys grew up here,” Jackman said. “We didn’t use day care or babysitters. It’s pretty neat to see how they turned out as young men.”
“They were here with us every day, running around the store, sneaking candy, and hanging out with the customers,” Sumner said.
The store underwent some changes over the years, including a move to Waldoboro in 1999. The store reopened in its current location at 50 Main St. in Damariscotta in 2009. During the summers, Ricky and his younger brother, Josh, worked at the store, Fernald said.
After graduating from Lincoln Academy, Ricky became involved in humanitarian and disaster-relief work, including working in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Haiti, and Argentina. Ricky would return to Damariscotta between ventures to work at Fernald’s.
“I was able to see a lot of the world, and that’s what gave me the perspective that what we have here is very special,” Ricky said.
Prior to returning to Maine, Ricky, along with his girlfriend, Moira Rose Mahegan, were members of the relief effort in New York following Hurricane Sandy. The two had an option to join a team headed to the Philippines. Around the same time, Sumner reached out to Ricky about the possibility of taking over the store.
“I always knew it was an option, but that’s when I really decided it was what I wanted to do,” Ricky said. “I realized there are a lot of neat things happening here, so we packed up our bags and moved back here in the fall of 2014.”
The sense of community in Damariscotta also played into Ricky and Mahegan’s decision to relocate.
“Beyond just my family, there is a strong community inside and outside the store,” Ricky said. “Damariscotta seems to be on this upward trajectory, and I think it’s because people are seeing the value in small community living. It’s exciting to see there’s a young population in this state that’s sticking around and giving back to their communities.”
Mahegan agreed, saying that moving to a small, self-sustaining community like Damariscotta has been an amazing experience.
“You really feel like you’re a part of something special,” Mahegan said. “There aren’t many places like this anymore.”
Sumner and Ricky currently co-manage the store, Ricky said. Beyond increasing efficiency, Ricky said he does not plan to make any major changes to what makes the country store special, from penny candy and Moxie collectibles to the deli, coffee menu, and homemade pastries.
“What makes it different from other places is that it’s just a mesh of so many things,” Ricky said. “We hope to preserve everything because what we have here is so unique, and I don’t want to lose what makes this place special.”
One of the most important components of the store is the customers, Ricky said.
“Our regulars make the shop,” Ricky said. “They hang out at the counter for hours having conversations. I hope that’s something we never lose.”
Although Sumner said he would be available to pick up his apron again if needed, Ricky said it will be bittersweet to see his father step back from the business.
“He has become a staple to a lot of folks,” Ricky said. “I think people will be happy for him.”