MARION — The store has stood the test of time, but it’s in need of some TLC.
The Marion General Store has served the community for 44 years. If you count the building’s previous incarnations as a Congregational Church Meeting House and other retail options, it’s been around for 224 years.
Now, the Sippican Historical Society is lending a hand with giving the store a facelift. The group has partnered with owner Jack Cheney to fund restoration of the exterior and renovation of its interior.
The project will start at the top, Historical Society President Frank McNamee said. The first work will be a new roof, followed by windows, shingles and gutters, then a new electrical system, reinforced structural supports and a handicapped-accessible bathroom.
"The society felt it was important to preserve the more significant buildings in the village," he said.
Board member Judith Rosbe said the store "has been a gathering place … the commercial, social and spiritual center of the town. It's an important historical monument for the town."
It opened as the Congregational Church Meeting House in 1794. Cheney opened the Marion General Store there in 1974.
"It makes the center of town a vibrant place," McNamee said. "The society saw a strong need to help with the renovations."
It helped that the society's offices and headquarter are across the street from the store. "We've always been close to Jack Cheney," McNamee said.
The idea of a partnership was a natural outgrowth of that. The two sides agreed to place an Historic Preservation Restriction on the deed, ensuring that the building exterior will never be altered and that the Historical Society will have the right of first refusal if the store is ever sold.
The work, which will be performed by local contractor Lars Olsen, is being funded by the Historical Society's Preservation Fund and a group of supporters who include McNamee, Rosbe, Jack Cheney and his daughter, Whitney Cheney Wynn, along with the design help of local architect Will Saltonstall.
Rosbe declined to detail the project's price tag but said there's enough in the bank to fund it. The society now needs donations to replenish that money for future projects.
The work will begin this month, and the contractor hopes to finish by late spring, McNamee said.
Whitney Cheney Wynne said her father emphasizes that "this is not a total restoration of the store." He envisions shutting the store down only "for a couple days" once exterior work begins. "We are trying to keep it open. The work will be done in phases."
The goal is to keep the charm of the store intact. "I went to college for business because of my father, and our family moved to Marion four years ago to be closer to him," she said. "We wanted our children to experience Marion and the wonderful gifts it has to offer, such as the store. In today’s world, it’s rare to feel an entire town has your back. This new partnership with the SHS is just another wonderful example of that support. I love the nostalgic feeling I get every time I step foot into my dad's store."
The plans for the interior include modern windows, insulation and extending the old-fashioned b-board ceiling of the deli-counter to the rest of the store.
Jack Cheney said that his store is still a community gathering place, where customers grab their morning newspaper and coffee then return later for groceries, or at lunch time stop in for his handmade sandwiches that cost around $2.
He likes that his is the type of place where customers know the owner and always say hi. That sense of community, he said, is why, after growing up here from age 10 and attending Tabor Academy, he left for a business degree at Nichols College in Worcester but returned to start a business and a family.
"It's a great town to raise a family," he said. "I've always loved it here. The community's very good to us and we've been good for the community."
The agreement that made the renovations a reality was "a no brainer," he said. "It's just great that we could make it happen.”