New owners seek customer ideas to make a good thing better
Hope — Hope General Store is under new management as of March 31, but for now, owners Michael and Heather Forcillo say, things will stay pretty much the same.
“All the things the store does today we'll continue to do,” Michael said.
The couple, who live in Rockport with their three children, both said they like the way former owner Andrew Stewart has revived the store and made it a community center. They were interested in taking over the business because it, “has a tremendous amount of character,” Michael said. Both will be employed full-time at the store, and the five existing employees will all be asked to stay on, he said.
While both Forcillos will work in the store and interact with customers, Michael will focus more on working with vendors and tweaking the store's inventory, while Heather will manage the books. Neither has retail experience, but Michael has done other entrepreneurial projects as well as working in the magazine and pharmaceutical industries. Heather has been a social worker.
Michael is a transplant to Maine, but Heather grew up in the Camden/Rockport area, and remembers Hope General Store from her childhood, when it had gas pumps out front. “It is such a special place now,” she said.
There will continue to be a post office in the store, as well as its trademark eclectic offering of beers, Michael said. He added that Stewart had provided introductions to the beer distributors he has done business with.
“He's been a tremendous person in the community, and a wonderful person to buy something from,” Michael said, adding that Stewart also shared some of his own ideas for making the business grow.
The Forcillos want to hear customers' ideas for the store's future before making any big changes, and they have a few ideas of their own, as well. They are looking into providing lunches for children attending summer programs at Sweet Tree Arts next door to the store and Elephant Camp at Hope Elephants, also nearby, Heather said. She emphasized that these ideas are still being discussed, with nothing final yet.
The couple want to encourage customers to linger longer, so they will probably improve the septic system in order to have a public restroom and may add a seating area where people can eat inside and take advantage of the store's WiFi, Heather said. They also want to expand the menu to bring in healthy items that will appeal to the children attending classes at Sweet Tree Arts, as well as to their parents, she said.
“We're hoping to be very convenient for people, but also have healthy choices,” Heather said.
She and Michael both said they want to hear from anyone with an idea for improving the store and building on the sense of community that already exists there.
“Collectively, we have a feeling the store has a strong potential to grow,” Michael said.
The Forcillos will have promotional events for the store, which will be announced later, he said.