This Century-Old General Store Is a Road Trip Stop Frozen in Time
This time machine runs on ice cream and penny candy.
Driving up the coast of Maine, you could easily fly through Saco without a second thought. In a state full of mountainous hamlets and dreamy seaside villages, the town is frequently observed in the rearview. But stop in the city and wander away from its time-worn historic homes, coffee chains, and car-repair shops along Route 1 and you’ll stumble back in time.
All you need to do is enter the general store.
Named for being “way way” off the small town’s beaten path, The Way Way Store was once an essential rest stop for those traversing Maine to pick up gas, groceries, and other essentials. Kids would beg for penny candy while adults chatted with the store owners as they pumped gas. Now, more than a century later and as more and more people hit the road for social distancing-friendly road trips, this old-fashioned general store has solidified itself as a road-trip destination unto itself.
The exterior hasn’t changed a bit over the past century. Hand-poured concrete pillars with stones haphazardly pressed on the outside have been there since 1929, and old Pepsi signs hang on red-and-white brick alongside the shop's National Register of Historic Places designation.
The inside hasn’t changed much either: On any given day you may hear music playing out of an old radio or antique phonograph, or see other guests inspecting the store’s original cash register perched on the penny-candy case. The whole store smells like you’re pressed inside the pages of weathered books lining the shelves. Based on your surroundings, you’d expect all the candy to be coated with a layer of dust.
Inside, you have three options: Join the kids pressed up against glass cases picking out old-school caramel creams and other candy for just a few cents a piece; order an ice cream cone from the counter across the store; or explore the nooks and crannies housing glass milk jugs, antique signs, and Maine souvenirs for sale.
“We try to bring people back to a simpler time and have them think happier thoughts”
The key, though, to the store’s timelessness is the historic shop’s owners. Peter Scontras, a retired schoolteacher from Saco, took over the store in 2011 with his wife, Bridget. They kept the building largely the same, from the layout to the fixtures and woodwork. Ever since, Peter has been bustling around the store to greet guests and tell stories about the antiques hanging all around them. It’s the kind of experience you just don’t find at other side-of-the-road shops, which tend to transform historic general stores into Instagram tableaus hocking artisan jams and overpriced delicacies.
“We try to bring people back to a simpler time and have them think happier thoughts,” Scontras said.
On a recent, masked summer afternoon with Scontras, he insisted on chatting with every guest who walked through the door during our three-hour visit. They raced for bottles of Maine’s Moxie soda or grabbed bags filled with mystery candy and trinkets off a shelf. He pulled down antique toy cars and haggled with older folks, then demonstrated how to use the original Bowser-brand gas pump from 1923 that sits in the middle of the shop for younger people like myself, who have never seen such a thing.
As we were wrapping up our interview, a trio of nonagenarians followed by their daughters came into the store. For the ladies, the store was locked in time to look like the ones they used to frequent decades ago. One was on a mission to find the Tootsie Rolls, while another held a couple rolls of her favorite pastel Necco wafers. The third couldn’t be bothered by anything around her: She just wanted to reminisce about the store because it looked just like the one her parents used to own.
As they left the store, Peter, of course, thanked them for stopping in and made sure the first had a handful of Tootsie Rolls in her pocket for the ride home.
“If this store can give someone a happy memory, like it did for those ladies, that’s what really gets me,” Scontras said. “Exchanges like that almost makes me want to cry because it really just validates why we are doing this.”
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