Bailey Island gift shop stands the test of time

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HARPSWELL — At the end of Route 24 on Bailey Island there’s a sign that warns “Road Ends 500 feet.”

But for 60 years, countless visitors have been curious enough to continue past.

As the trees clear and give way to a view of the ocean and Jaquish Island, explorers are rewarded when they spot a long, gray building with a row of whimsical whirligigs out front.

The structure is the Land’s End Gift Shop, and it’s been owned and operated by the Hutchins family since 1959.

Fifty-nine years ago this summer, Ruby Hutchins and her husband Ed bought the original establishment, a small snack bar and store opened by Ed’s grandparents in the 1930s.

At that time, the store’s owners were elderly, prompting a newly married Ed and Ruby to make the trip from Massachusetts to Maine to operate the business.

“We said, ‘Oh well, we’re younger folks, we’ll go up and run it this summer for them so they wouldn’t close it,'” Ruby said. “And then that fall we bought it from them, and we’ve been here ever since.”

Today, the store spans two floors, has a wrap-around deck overlooking the waterfront, and is run by Ruby and Ed’s son, Howard Hutchins, and his wife Karen.

Despite Harpswell’s reputation as a seasonal community, Land’s End is open seven days a week from April through October, weekends in December, school vacation week in February, and weekends in March.

“We’re only totally shut down seven or eight weeks (a year),” Howard said.

In addition to buoys and suncatchers hanging from the ceiling, the shop’s decor gives visitors a taste of its storied past, with framed photos and newspaper clippings documenting its evolution over the years.

After purchasing it in 1959, Ruby and Ed expanded the original store by building an addition. But Land’s End would have to be remodeled from the ground up in 1978, following a powerful January storm.

In 1997, the store underwent yet another transition when Howard, who first arrived on Bailey Island with his parents as an infant, bought the store.

“I was sitting next to a cash register at 10 days old, so I didn’t have a choice,” he said.

A piece of Bailey Island history is also literally built into Land’s End: part of the back wall is made from the check-in window of the old Bailey Island Post Office, which was rebuilt in 1978.

A wall of antique metal mailboxes, also from the old post office, lines anothr wall.

Despite its humble beginnings, Land’s End has gained a legion of loyal fans over the years, with more than 2,500 likes on its Facebook page.

Ruby said some customers have been around almost as long as the store.

“We’ve got customers that have been coming probably almost for 60 years that keep coming back, (and) they come in and talk to us,” she said.

A banner at the store’s entrance commemorates the anniversary and proclaims Land’s End “a Maine business supporting other Maine businesses” – a nod to the inventory, much of which is crafted by nearly 100 Maine artisans.

Homemade items such as candles and potholders line the shelves, along with other Maine-themed souvenirs such as boat and lobster-shaped Christmas ornaments, and nautical nightlights and magnets.

Selling items made locally has been a staple of the business since it started, Howard said, but selling crafts solely made in the state isn’t always possible. Some of the store’s clothing, for instance, is imported.

“We get as much Maine-made as we can, within reason,” he said, “as long as the crafters can. For some people it’s just a hobby and when you give them a real order, like you want 50 (of an item), they’re like, ‘I don’t know.'”

Another handcrafted staple of the store is store-made fudge, which Karen prepares daily during the summer. Ruby said “everybody goes crazy” for it.

The store aside, though, Howard said Bailey Island is often a peaceful escape from inland parts of the region, especially on hot summer days.

“It’s a destination, because you’ve got three restaurants on the island, too, so people come make a day of it,” he said. “If it’s 80 or 90 degrees in Lewiston or whatever, or Brunswick even, we’re 10 or 15 degrees cooler, so they come for the ride and hang out.”

Being at the literal land’s end, Ruby added, is an asset too.

“They can’t get by us,” she said.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Land’s End Gift Shop has been in business on the tip of Bailey Island since 1959, with merchandise crafted by nearly 100 Maine artisans and homemade fudge made daily in the summer.

Howard Hutchins, left, and his mother Ruby Hutchins stand on the front porch of Land’s End Gift Shop in Bailey Island, which their family has owned and operated for 60 years.

A row of creative wooden whirligigs line the porch outside of Land’s End, which overlooks the waterfront below.

Along with goods made by Mainers, Land’s End also sells many Maine-themed items such as Christmas ornaments, which are sold on weekends while the shop is open during the holidays.

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