The Working Waterfront

Putting down retail roots on Islesboro

Sky and Marianne Purdy take over as owners of Island Market

Posted 2021-03-10
Last Modified 2021-03-17
In front of store
The family in front of the Island Market. PHOTO: COURTESY MARIANNE PURDY

Sky and Marianne Purdy met while hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2007, and for six seasons, both worked at a lodge in Denali National Park in Alaska at the end of the park’s single road, nestled in a six-million-acre wilderness.

So the couple knows something about the long haul. And the long haul is what it took for the two to take ownership of the Island Market, one of Islesboro’s two small grocery stores.

It wasn’t just the opportunity to run a store that drew them—both are 35 years old—to the island. They believe it’s the ideal community to raise their two children—Eleanor, who is two-and-half, and Arlo, who is six-months old.

“This is where we wanted our kids to grow up,” said Marianne.

Sky grew up on the island. His mother is Maggy Willcox, who owns and operates the Islesboro Island News. After high school, he left and didn’t look back.

The couple closed on the purchase on Feb. 1, but it took more than a year to conclude the process. The Purdys bought the store from Dan and Linda Mahan—known on-island as “Shake” and “Loony”—who had owned and operated the Island Market for 25 years. They, too, liked raising their family on the island, but they were ready to retire.

“We saw the ad for the store in the Islesboro Island News in February 2019 and it piqued our interest,” recalls Marianne. They then received an email from Craig Olson of the Island Institute, who later helped steer the couple through the process.

“He connected us with some good advisors, other young people in Maine buying businesses, and helped us find grants from the Island Institute for professional services,” she said. “He was a great resource for us during this long and often confusing process.”

The Purdys moved to the island in the winter of 2019 to begin the process of buying the store, which is across the street from the post office and a church. The other store, Durkee’s General Store, is in the northerly part of the island.

Not only was the town supportive of retaining the store as a going concern, but its Islesboro Economic Sustainability Corporation (IESC), a quasi-municipal nonprofit (see sidebar) stepped in to help bring the purchase to fruition. The building was owned by a third party, Phil Berry, and purchasing it along with the business was out of reach for the couple. Efforts to negotiate a long-term lease for the store failed to find resolution, and financing for the business was contingent on a secure lease.

IESC bought the building and offered the couple the long-term lease.

“The entire deal involved many parties,” notes Tom Tudor, vice-chairman of the IESC board, “and also the satisfactory resolution of an environmental evaluation study prompted by the presence of a retail gasoline pump.”

Roger Heinen, chairman of the IESC board, further explained that it believed “preserving the two groceries on the island was a critical essential service and business. This is all good for the island.”

Town officials have been working to establish the area where the Island Market is located as a village center of sorts.

“The property is a keystone property in our town center,” Heinen said.

And the Purdys certainly understood the social value of the business they were buying.

“It’s such a community cornerstone,” said Sky, essential to the island as the only place for consumers to buy fuel. “It’s a social place—you’re guaranteed to run into your neighbor.”

Stopping by the store to check the community bulletin board for activities and catch up with neighbors was part of his island experience. A long tradition has several men gathering for coffee at 6 a.m. “to solve the world’s problems,” he jokes.

Now that they finally are in charge of the 2,000-square-foot store, the couple have ideas but want to retain what is beloved about it.

“We’re not in any big rush to change things,” says Marianne. But offering quality meats and produce, including as much locally sourced foods as possible, are in the works.

“Waldo County is one of the best places to be, in terms of fresh produce,” says Sky, who is a chef and wants to expand the prepared food menu with more sandwich, pizza, and salad options.

Small stores are well-suited to work with small producers, he says.

“We’re excited about cultivating relationships with local growers.”

Local seafood also will be featured more prominently.

The Mahans spent six months working alongside the Purdys to teach them the ropes, then in October, Shake sailed south in his boat while Loony wrapped up the final details.

“We always wanted to move back to the island,” Marianne said, and the store was the opportunity to do so.

 

Islesboro Economic Sustainability Corporation

In 2019, Islesboro voters established a quasi-municipal, nonprofit corporation to serve “as a catalyst for developing essential services and businesses needed to attract families, jobs, and a vibrant summer community,” according to town literature.

The Islesboro Economic Sustainability Corporation, run by a nine-member, select board-appointed committee, works to:

  • promote, finance, and develop essential-to-Islesboro sustainability services and businesses
  • define, with select board and community, the essential-to-Islesboro sustainability priorities
  • help finance private investments to expand businesses, mixed-income housing, etc.
  • purchase, sell, lease, finance and/or develop real estate projects, commercial space, or community infrastructure
  • leverage and lobby for town, state and federal economic development benefits
  • operate without reliance on tax-payer general funds—property-tax neutral
  • raise $1.5-$2 million in working capital through donations and grants