PARIS — Patty LaBrecque has a self-admitted “problem” – she can’t allow vacant storefronts to remain unoccupied, especially when she sees potential in the business. That is why the Oxford resident and her husband, Charlie, purchased the former Doughboy’s Variety at auction in October.
The couple closed on the Paris business, located at 44 E. Main St., on Nov. 3. It now will be called the Dam Store, which is a nod to its close approximation to the Billings Dam.
“I have a weakness and my weakness is if I see something that is dead – a store that is supposed to be alive – and I can make it alive, then I have to do it and that’s the problem,” she said.
They also own Parkside Variety in Oxford, which has kept LeBrecque busy since April 2015 while Charlie has worked as a carpenter by trade for 25-plus years. Before that, they owned Sideline Variety for 13 years, but sold the Norway business in June 2016.
“I tried running Sideline and Parkside both but I couldn’t be in two places at once so I had to do something because my sanity was an issue at that point,” LaBrecque said about the sale of Sideline Variety.
Now that Charlie isn’t working 40-plus hours in construction (though he still remains busy), the plan is for the couple to tag team running the two convenience stores. But this was not the original plan.
“I really didn’t want to buy it because I tried to do two stores before and it didn’t work out. You can’t be in two places at the same time,” she said, adding she originally told Charlie she wasn’t going to attend the auction.
But knowing there was potential for the Paris location and a void in the area, LeBrecque quickly changed her mind.
“Nobody else [at the auction] wanted it either and out of everybody that was there, I was like, ‘I need to do something,’” she said. “I called him while I was at the auction. I said, ‘Honey would you buy the Handy Store for X amount of dollars?’ and he said, ‘OK.’”
Doughboys Variety was run and known as the Handy Store for 27 years by Zee and Hann Khan, who retired three years ago. In 2014, David Haskell and Mike Smith purchased the longtime business.
This July, Haskell – who was the remaining owner as Smith moved to California – was forced to close the store after the death of his father. He tried to find a buyer for the store, to no avail, which is why it went to auction.
Stefan Keenan, of Keenan Auction Company, said the property, which abuts the Little Androscoggin River, was sold for $80,000 plus $11,000 in outstanding taxes and water and sewer bills.
LeBrecque spoke about the void the closing of Doughboys created.
“There is definitely a need for cheap cigarettes, beer and groceries on that side of town,” she said. “Nobody has the inexpensive cigarettes around. You have to go a ways to get cheap cigarettes.”
She doesn’t have a specific time line, except the goal to open up the Paris business by summer 2018. There is a lot of work that needs to be done on the inside of the building.
“We have to completely gut it and start over again. … It needs a lot of reconfiguring because it’s never been closed so they just put Band-Aids and more Band-Aids and it’s not OK,” LeBrecque said. “Now that is is closed, I can go in there [and] gut it out. I can peak the floor if I need to peak the floor and move all the equipment around and stuff like that.”
The loose plan is to open the store first and then the pizza and sandwich counter later.
“We have to completely redo the floor and one of the coolers and that is going to take some time before opening the store part,” she said. “We need to start slow anyways to get our feet under us, learn our clientele, stuff like that.”
LeBrecque noted the Billings Bridge replacement project – as the business abuts the bridge – will be two years long. The tentative time line for that project is from 2018 through 2019. She plans on remaining open for business during the time when the bridge is down to one lane as the structure is rebuilt.
While LeBrecque wasn’t initially excited about purchasing Doughboys, her business associates and family members were, and it has since caught on.
“It is really easy to open a store where I have all the connections. All of my sales people are like, ‘Yeah let’s do it,’” she said.
Her stepfather, Walter Reed, worked at the Handy Store a couple years in the 1970s, and was excited that the business has come back full circle to his family. LeBrecque told her stepfather to not underestimate her need for him to work at the new business, she said, laughing.
At full staff, Parkside Variety employs seven people, though they are short one employee now. She plans on employing around the same number when she opens the Dam Store. This could include some of the couple’s four children – two each from separate marriages – whose ages range from 12 to 17.
“They are going to be coming into that age where guess what? They’re going to be working. Once they see those paychecks they’re going to be hooked,” LeBrecque said, laughing. “I’m really excited.”