This story was updated at 12:42 p.m. 9/24 to clrify that Balmer and Bruckhart are rthe store’s owners and Sollenberger the manager of th store.
WATERBORO — At first glance, the Cornerstone Country Market doesn’t seem like the kind of place you’d go out of your way to visit.
The interior is a bland cream color. The lighting is fluorescent, the shelving standard.
Look more closely at what’s stocked on those shelves, though, and the place starts absorbing your interest.
The baking aisle is filled with a wide variety of flours, some of which would be hard to find even in Portland. Sure, you can get gummy bears in the candy aisle, but you’ll also find gummy fried eggs and candy Legos. And there are lots of products from Pennsylvania Dutch country, such as jams, shoofly pie mix, birch beer and things you didn’t know you needed, like sweet tiny beets in a jar.
I heard about the Cornerstone Country Market from Michael and Sandy Jubinsky, owners of the Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School in Lyman. Michael kept urging me to check out the store, which opened four months ago, saying it was “kinda cool.” Jubinsky found out about it from his daughter, a cook. That’s the way the store appears to be expanding its customer base – word of mouth.
And it’s understandable why, once you look around the place.
Jubinsky is enamored of the flour selection because he’s found flours there that he would normally have to order in 50-pound bags or pay through the nose for at a high-end grocery store. He’s also found instant clear jel, a thickener he uses that doesn’t need heating and doesn’t gum up your pies like corn starch or make them cloudy like flour.
Like other customers, the Jubinskys have also stumbled across products that they had never heard of before but now can’t live without.
“Their extra-dark pretzels are like God’s gift to pretzels,” Jubinsky said.
You can get bulk organic rolled oats, organic whole wheat flour, goji-blueberry-golden flax oatmeal and other healthy foods at this little market and you can buy coconut oil or a bag of the little colored marshmallows like the ones that go into Lucky Charms.
Alongside the usual junk food items in the snack aisle, there are green bean chips, and the corn chips come with flecks of flax in them – maybe so you feel a little less guilty about eating them?
BUILDING A CONGREGATION
Where did this place come from, and why is it in rural Maine?
The store was started by three families who moved here from Pennsylvania to start a church. Jeff Balmer, one of the owners, explained that they are members of the Church of the Brethren, and are currently meeting in the historic Oakwoods Meeting House in North Berwick until they can get their new congregation off the ground.
There are three other Church of the Brethren communities in Maine, Balmer said. One is in Brunswick; the other two are in Lewiston and Gardiner. Balmer said the church in Pennsylvania sent out letters asking who would be willing to move to Maine to start a new church, and his family and five other families felt called to do so.
Members of the Church of the Brethren live simply and follow the teachings of the New Testament. But despite all of the Amish merchandise in the store, they are not Amish. The church was founded in 1708 and, like the Amish and Mennonites, are descended from the Anabaptists, Protestant Christians of the 16th century who rejected the idea of infant baptism and other traditional practices of the church.
Balmer owns the store with his brother-in-law, Randy Bruckhart. Jon Sollenberger is the manager. The families chose to open the store as a way to make a living while they’re establishing their church.
“These stores are fairly common, but it’s a new concept here in Maine,” Sollenberger said. “And with moving into a new area with a bad economy, why move in and try to take other peoples’ jobs? Maybe we could do something like this and create a few jobs.”
REPACKAGED FOR SAVINGS
The market buys a lot of its products in bulk, repackages them in smaller containers, and then passes on the savings to the customer.
In a display of fall candy, for example, the pumpkin pie and caramel apple fudge has been broken down from 6-pound packages to half-pound servings.
In the baking aisle, you’ll find rye flour, pumpernickel flour, rye meal, King Arthur Special (a high-protein flour good for pizzas) and King Arthur Lancelot, a high-gluten flour good for making bagels. Items such as rye and pumpernickel flours can occasionally be found in Portland, Jubinsky said, “but it’s hit or miss.”
“You can go up there and buy two pounds or five pounds of these kinds of flours and experiment with your baking,” he said.
The cookie mixes look like the homemade mixes you give as holiday gifts, only instead of just chocolate chip and sugar cookies, they have things like coconut macaroon mix.
The variety of spices sold at the market is impressive, considering the size of the place, as is the candy aisle. “We’ve got some people coming in strictly for the candy,” Sollenberger said.
The market carries mostly local produce – except for some Pennsylvania peaches, which have proven to be popular – and raw milk from BrookRidge Dairy in Lyman. It has small sections of organic and gluten-free products, and it sells freshly made breads from Raven Hill Orchard in Waterboro.
I scratched my head at a row full of dip mixes that included the unusual flavors of strawberry and black raspberry. I assumed these powdered mixes were meant to be turned into salad dressings, but I’ve never seen this kind of thing in large grocery stores.
Sollenberger said a Boston resident who summers in Waterboro and likes to enter barbecue contests combined the black raspberry mix with brown sugar and other ingredients to create a glaze for his ribs. Three weeks later, he came back into the market. “He said he won first prize, and he was tickled pink,” Sollenberger said.
As I browsed the aisles at Cornerstone, I overheard Anne McBride of Waterboro tell Balmer as she checked out: “I like your store. I’m going to tell all my friends.”
McBride lives just around the corner, but this was her first time in the market. On this visit she only purchased some half and half, but spent time wandering around the store and planned to return another day to do more shopping.
“I like the jams from Pennsylvania,” she said. “I hope they are successful. It’s a store I will shop at.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]