Main Street Variety
Meet Our January Featured Business: Main Street Variety
Anyone who has been involved with managing a gas station, convenience store, or quick service lunch counter knows that it is not easy work, but Northeast Harbor native Ben Lunt isn’t scared. He runs all three out of Main Street Variety, keeping the village of NEH and town of Mount Desert supplied with essential fuel, snacks, and daily lunch specials all year long. Mount Desert 365 is proud to highlight Ben’s efforts and the contribution Main Street Variety makes to the community as our January Featured Business. Read on to learn more about the history of Northeast Harbor’s only gas station and its current owner/operator.
The Main Street Variety location at 120 Main Street has been a transportation hub for the village of Northeast Harbor and the town of Mount Desert since it was built in 1918. Until the 1930s it was a stable for carriage horses. Once automobiles became fixtures across the island, the garage added staff and service offerings tailored to motor vehicles and their owners. At its height in the 1940s there were over a dozen employees, including three shifts of car washers working around the clock cleaning, maintaining, storing vehicles overnight, and retrieving them for chauffeurs in the morning. To meet the needs of residents and guests without their own cars, they also rented vehicles and had a three-car taxi stand operating continuously in the summertime.
In 1969, at the ripe, old age of 19, Lewis Moore bought the business and property from Dick and Grace Merchant, opening Manchester Bros. Inc. as a full-service automotive garage. He was younger than all of his thirteen employees and legally barred from owning a business for another two years, so had to ask his mother, Alice Carter, to be the owner of record. By the time he was old enough to take ownership himself, Lewis had suffered a workplace injury, falling partway into the grease pit below the garage bays. In order to keep things running during his recovery, he began leasing the property to outside owner/operators.
Growing up here, Ben Lunt has always been acutely aware of the importance of the garage. The demand today for a complete automotive service station in downtown Northeast Harbor isn’t as great as in decades past, but as the only place for gas in Mount Desert south of Somesville, Main Street Variety is critical to the village, town, and island communities’ economic sustainability. As the former operator’s time managing the business came to an end in 2009, Ben stepped up. In collaboration with Lewis and the Moore family, Ben took over the lease as sole owner and operator of Main Street Variety. In the years since, he has demonstrated his deep commitment to the community at large by keeping the pumps and business open everyday in the summers, closing just on Sundays in the winter and Christmas Day. In order to better cater to customer demand for hot lunch options, Ben recently hired Ian Merchant, Islesford Dock sous chef, to oversee daily specials that have become fast favorites at the lunch counter.
From the beginning of his tenure, Ben has worked to refine the offerings at MSV in order to best meet the needs of his customers. Wherever possible, he sets prices for small items like muffins, cups of coffee, hot dogs, and pizza slices such that they equal a round number once tax is added, sparing customers the pocketfuls of loose change. He also offers discounts for reusing coffee cups: bringing your own cup gets any size coffee for the price of a small. His margin strategy throughout the store is to maintain affordability for customers while ensuring the business is profitable enough to stay open in the long term and support his young family.
“I’m very proud of the job he’s doing,” Lewis Moore said recently of Ben’s efforts. “He’s the lifeblood of Main Street Variety.” We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Moore’s sentiment and count ourselves among the many community members grateful to Ben and his efforts to make Main Street Variety a pillar of Northeast Harbor and the town of Mount Desert. Stop in to gas up your car, grab a bite to eat, and show your appreciation some time soon!