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"Meet Me Downtown" is a monthly column featuring various independent businesses in Downtown Waterville. The goal of this series is to introduce our fine merchants to the community as part of our efforts to build support for our independent business owners. If you have a suggestion for a business to be featured, please contact us at shannon@watervillemainstreet.org or 680-2055. Visit the Meet Me Downtown home page to read our other business profiles.

Beverly's Card & Gift:
Stylish Sentiments
by Michelle Troutman

Outside, the large picture window shows a small selection of merchandise, stuffed animals, wallet stuffers, and mini snow globes, hinting at what's in store.

Inside Beverly's Card and Gift neatly arranged items fill the small space: aisles of greeting cards, kiosks of calendars, shelves of candles, picture frames, decorative clocks, jewelry, Webkinz, and knickknacks. Hanging along the walls are party favors and decorations. Together, alongside the displays of wind chimes, Snowbabies, Christmas ornaments, and WillowTree figurines they form eye-catching store décor.

Owners Paul and Beverly Lessard bought the first location at the JFK Plaza in 1983, then known as the Carriage House, from Mark and Sylvia Vigue. Seven years later, they purchased the Concourse branch. "My wife and I were looking for something to do,” Paul recalls. In his early forties at the time, he went through a period of reflection, thinking about his future. “I was in credit before, and it was a difficult job. I worked in consumer credit, and I just couldn't do that the rest of my life."

Years in credit management for an oil company, dealing with the public, and his wife's customer service experience gave them the confidence that they could make it in retail. "When Beverly and I started, it was just the two of us. We hired, as I remember, a part-timer to help us at Christmas. That was it. But everything we made in our store, we plowed back into our business. I mean, we took such a small salary. It was enough to pay the rent -- our apartment, and to feed us."

Business began well at the Concourse location, but tailed off when Shop 'n Save and Ames closed. The Lessards decided to become part of a franchise known as CardSmart, owned by Paramount Card Co., giving the store a niche as a "half-off" card store, while the other Waterville location sold regular-price Hallmark cards.

After Paramount declared bankruptcy, the new ownership tried to franchise the “half-off” CardSmart stores. Based on his experience, Lessard knew that if Hallmark and American Greetings weren't leading with that concept it wouldn't be successful. The management also wouldn't let them use the CardSmart trademark if they didn't sell their merchandise, so the Lessards opted out about three years ago, and currently sell American Greetings cards.

Beverly is now semi-retired, sometimes coming in to meet with sales representatives. Paul plays a part-time role, with help from his store managers, and still handles the taxes, accounting, and payroll, and offers input on buying decisions. "We have our manager in Topsham. She's been relied on to do a lot of the buying. She checks the stores' inventories. As an example, today she is going up to Waterville. She will move product around, talk to the managers about displays, and things like that."

While growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Paul's parents both worked, and he credits them for his work ethic. He remembers he and his siblings helped his mother sew dolls for a cottage industry. In his early teens and throughout high school, he picked beans on a farm and swept floors, preferring work to school. "I just couldn't sit there and listen to someone talk for whatever. I wasn't a bad kid. Mischievous probably would be closer to the term."

In his spare time, Lessard and his wife enjoy home life, gardening, and traveling, having visited the British Isles, Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Africa, and South America. Most recently, they've toured Toronto and Ottawa by bus, and this past spring they took an 18-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Rome.

On the job, Lessard stresses that he maintains a policy of being tough but fair with employees. "I've had longevity in my employees. I'm very fortunate. I haven't had much turnover." Of new hires, "I tell them, we're just a small crew, and everybody needs to get along, so if you don't think you're going to get along, just consider not working here, or if you do get a job here, if you're having problems, then leave. Life is too short to be miserable."

He foresees retirement within the next three to four years, and expects to hand over the reins to loyal employees.

Store manager Brenda Rancourt has worked at Beverly's for 19 years, starting at the JFK Plaza location, later at the Elm Plaza, and moved to the Concourse last year. Much of her and her fellow co-workers' tasks involve arranging the displays regularly, and of course, serving customers. "I like waiting on people,” she says. “I like the fact that we get to do whatever we want, like putty in our hands, really. We change what we want, we do all the displays. There are no planograms like your big stores. We get to have fun with it and do what we want to do."

"You meet a lot of nice people, and you pretty much get to set your hours as to what you want. When you need time off, you get it . I think it's pretty family-oriented in that respect."

Lessard agrees about the customers, his big brown eyes lighting up as he talks about them. "My customers -- I love my customers. Sometimes I want to hug them, and thank them for coming into our store.”

"It's been a very rewarding business, and I'm so happy we did what we did when we did it."

He believes that passion is a key trait for business ownership. "If you think it's a nine-to-five, it isn't going to work."

As the business developed, sixteen years ago, they bought an existing store in Topsham, and in 2000, they opened a branch at the Turnpike Mall in Augusta. The JFK Plaza store moved to the Elm Plaza in 2002.

"It's funny, after about 10 years in business, I started looking back at what we had done, and I'm saying, how naive I was to start a business." According to Lessard, he and his wife didn't have much money, and banks weren't willing to help them with loans. "We were able to take a second mortgage back from the previous owner, which kind of helped."

Another factor in that success is learning from their mistakes, as Lessard points out. "I've made some mistakes along the way -- we're only human -- but the big thing, I've tried to make it only a one-time shot, not make the same mistakes."

Reflecting on 25 years in business, he believes their success has been modest, enough to keep him happy. "Hey, I don't require a lot in life. I've got a roof over my head. I've got a job, I've got a house, and a car. We're relatively healthy," he says with a laugh. "So, not much more I can ask for."

The 50 West Concourse store (between The Villager Restaurant and Yardgoods Center) is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00pm to 6:00pm, and can be reached at (207) 872-5383. The Elm Plaza, Turnpike Mall, and Topsham Fair Mall locations are open Mondays through Saturdays from 9:00pm to 8:00pm and Sundays 11:00am to 5:00pm. Their phone numbers are (207) 872-5456, (207) 623-6400, and (207) 725-8155.

Visit the Meet Me Downtown home page to read our other business profiles.


Want to learn more about the independent business owners in downtown Waterville?
Check out our Meet Me Downtown series, written by volunteer Michelle Troutman to highlight the people behind the storefronts...more

FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
Corner of Elm and Park Streets

Rev. Jeremiah Chaplin, the first president of Colby College, formed this church in 1818. Because it was illegal for a religious group to own property, an organization of pew holders was formed... Learn more.

For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 stays in the local economy, creating jobs and expanding the city's tax base. For every $100 spent at a national chain or franchise store, only $14 remains in the community.