As Sawyer’s goes, so goes old-time Little Falls

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A trolley car in a historic photo is at Sawyer's Store that once served as a waiting room.

A trolley car in a historic photo is at Sawyer’s Store that once served as a waiting room.

The iconic Sawyer’s Variety Store, last of the old stores in Little Falls, has closed.

“Thanks for 107 years of business,” the sign in the window at Sawyer’s Store reads. “We are now closed.”

GORHAM — The closing of the landmark Sawyer’s Variety Store after more than a century leaves historic Little Falls with only memories of old times.

The fourth-generation owners of the small grocery store shuttered it in January after 107 years in the same family and at the same location on Route 202. They have plans to sell it.

Kelly Finocchietti of Buxton, 54, and her brother, Craig Sawyer, 55, have operated the store since buying it 10 years ago from their father, Hall Sawyer Jr., who has passed away.

Finocchietti abruptly closed the store on Jan. 3.  A hand-scrawled sign posted in a store window thanks customers for “107 years of business.”

“I shut the door and ran and hid,” she said.

Sawyer’s is the last of the old time stores to disappear from the stretch of Gray Road between the roundabout and the Presumpscot River. Its closing dismays dairy farmer Robert Parsons, who frequented the store. The area, he said, “dried up from years ago.”

Finocchietti’s great-grandmother, Cora Sawyer, started the business in 1910. The store spanned the era from horses and buggies to today’s age of high technology. It is a landmark in Little Falls Village, located on the Gorham side of the river that separates the town from South Windham.

Sawyer’s once served as a waiting room for the trolley car system that linked Little Falls to Westbrook and Portland. Long before school buses, some local students in the early 1900s would take the trolley to attend Westbrook High School.

Public transportation has long abandoned the area, but Little Falls and South Windham were once served by the Mountain Division Railroad passenger and freight service. The store founder’s son, Hall Sawyer (1899-1992), rode trains when it was minus-20 degrees to play basketball on the Windham Wanderers team, made up of Gorham and Windham boys, against Bridgton High School.

The South Windham Fire Station is across the river and Hall Sawyer Jr., who followed his father as store owner, was a volunteer firefighter. Finocchietti said her father would run to the fire barn when a call rang in and a neighboring woman would cross the street to staff the store for him.

A mill on the river’s South Windham banks, now a burned-out eyesore, once fueled the prosperity of stores and shops. The flourishing Little Falls had markets, a pharmacy, funeral parlor, Jim’s Barbershop and a physician, Dr. O.K. Day. The library near Sawyer’s folded a few years ago and the building was moved to become part of Village Green, Windham Historical Society’s living history center. The Little Falls School on Acorn has been converted to an activities center and home of the Lakes Region Senior Center. 

Sawyer’s was iconic. Parsons, a friend of Craig Sawyer, said old-timers frequented the store to gossip.

“Everybody hung out there,” Finocchietti agreed.

Sandra Lyons, a part-time employee for 11 years, said people came to the store to “chit chat and reminisce,” and that she met a lot of nice people that way. “It was an interesting place to work,” Lyons said. “I enjoyed it.”

“I lived across the street growing up,” said Cheryl Johnson of Bridgton, “Sawyer’s was the place to be in the ’60s and ’70s.”

For many, visiting Sawyer’s was a ritual.

Ron Avery of Windham said in an email to Finocchietti after the store closed that he would miss his visits. “I have been stopping at Sawyer’s Variety for 42 years every day,” he said.

Over the decades, Sawyer’s carried just about everything – groceries, sandwiches, milk, local produce, tomato seedlings, Christmas gifts, candy, clothing, sewing supplies and, in more recent years, lottery tickets.

The store was a state tagging station for area hunters. Finocchietti recalled tagging as many as 40 deer on a Saturday during height of the hunting season. Sawyer’s kept records with hunters’ names and their communities. Avery enjoyed talking hunting and sports with customers gathering in the store.

In recent years, construction of a new bridge and later months of roadwork in front of the store took a toll on business. Highway work hampered customers from accessing Sawyer’s parking lot. “That killed us,” Finocchietti said. “It didn’t come back the same.”

Operating the store was also demanding and she was in the store six days a week. Three years ago, the store was hit with a burglary, losing cigarettes and beer.

“We’re ready to enjoy some life,” Finocchietti said.

The Little Falls Baptist Church is still in the village along with two new businesses – a custom framing shop and an alternative energy outlet. The Lil’ Mart, a convenience store with gas pumps, is at the roundabout.

David Galbraith, Gorham zoning administrator, said a few years ago the town jazzed up Little Falls with a streetscape – benches, new street lights, cross walks and bicycle racks.

But these days commuters whiz past an empty Sawyer’s.

As of last week, a deal still had not closed on sale of Sawyer’s Variety Store property. Finocchietti didn’t disclose who a buyer might be or future of the building.

“I’ll cry,” she said.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com. Kay Soldier contributed to this story.

  • Jason St Pierre

    Yes, I will certainly miss Sawyers. In the 70-80’s I would stop there often and after I became a paperboy I bought comics and treats there every week.

  • Anthony Taylor

    The siding boys already sliced the nose off the store building. The area needs vigilance about saving historic buildings and their trims.