England’s been in the news lately, with a big election and a new royal baby. But the kingdom is always in vogue at Bridgham & Cook, a store in Freeport that focuses exclusively on British imports.
The store opened in 1985, run by brothers Bob and Bill Bussey – the store’s name is drawn from their middle names. Both had British blood, said Lisa Bussey, who was Bob Bussey’s wife at the time.
The couple divorced around the time the store opened, Lisa Bussey said. Then Bob Bussey was diagnosed with ALS in 2000, and in 2010, as the disease progressed, he gave the store to his two children – a son he had with Lisa Bussey and a daughter from his first marriage.
Bob Bussey’s children have their own careers and now Lisa Bussey runs the store with Jay Paulus – who is married to Kate Bussey and also runs Jay Paulus Design, a firm with offices in Portland and Washington, D.C., that specializes in museum designs.
Lisa Bussey recently sorted out bloodlines that are as complicated as the royal family’s and discussed running a store with a fairly narrow focus.
Q: Are you an Anglophile?
A: If this were not his (Bob Bussey’s) store, I would probably not be working here. Neither Jay nor I had a background in retail, but I love the store. I would be lying if I said I was always an Anglophile, but I’ve been there several times and I love the country. It’s just a fun, challenging job and I love it. I’ve been an English teacher, I’ve been a tutor, I’ve been a psychotherapist, but now I’m doing this and it’s really fun.
Q: What kind of things do you sell?
A: We have lots of candy, biscuits – which we (Americans) call crackers – preserves, a lot of tea, of course, and we’ve got a lot of different fragrances from England. We’ve got jewelry, teapots and a lot of items at a variety of price points, from $1.99 candy bars to Barbour clothing. Their jackets run from $200 to $400. Most stores don’t have as wide a variety as we do. We’ve got lots of tartan scarves, blankets, pottery, a lot of barware, Guinness merchandise.
Q: Wait! Guinness is Irish.
A: This is not an English store, it’s a British store, which means England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Q: How do you decide what to stock?
A: Jay goes overseas a little bit and he also goes to a lot of British trade shows. Now that the Internet is as vibrant as it is, he does a lot of perusing there. He buys what he thinks will be interesting and different.
Q: Freeport is the land of outlets. I doubt there are very many stores like yours.
A: I don’t think there is. Some people who walk in the door are looking for the sale corner, but we’re not an outlet store. We’re really a pretty small store that is very different from the outlets. It has worked and it’s worked amazingly.
Q: Are most of your customers local or tourists?
A: There’s really a lot of local people, especially from Portland and Bangor. We have a website that goes with a 5,000-member mailing list of people we keep in touch with. It’s probable that the people who shop from us on the website are British, or their in-laws are British. I think a lot of people go, “Oh, I was in London 20 years ago and you have these same crunchy bars that I liked!” There are a lot of people who reminisce about trips to London, or old duffers who were there in World War II who remember a jam they had. There are a lot of emotional connections for people, even if they’re not British.
Q: Are you surprised how well some items sell?
A: I’m always surprised when people come in and they make a beeline for the candy. The fragrances and toiletries have done well, as have the college scarves for Cambridge and Oxford. I don’t think the people buying those necessarily went there, but they match their college colors. I think the amount of candy that people buy is amazing – two-thirds of everything we sell is candy, in terms of volume. But something we’re dealing with now is that Hershey’s sued the importers of Cadbury’s candy (Hershey’s acquired Cadbury’s U.S. operations in 1988 and recently asserted its right to block the British candy company from exporting to the U.S.) because it was eating into their revenue. We have been able to stockpile some – we’re hoarding it. We hope it will last throughout the rest of the year, but we don’t know.
I’m astonished that these Christmas ornaments that we have sell all year round. They’re really cute, from Alice in Wonderland to Henry VIII and his wives, a Beefeater and an Irish flag. They’re big hits.
Q: Which wife of Henry VIII’s is the best seller?
A: I think it’s Anne Boleyn.
Q: Tell me again how you ended up running a store that was founded by your ex-husband?
A: He gifted the store to his two children in 2010. One is my son, Nick, and the other is his daughter, Kate, from an earlier marriage. Kate’s husband, Jay Paulus, and Nick’s mother – me – run the store. Kate is in her 50s and works at Tyler Technologies in Cumberland, and Nick is a film editor in Atlanta, Georgia. Kate’s mother, who was Bob’s first wife, also works here at the store. It truly is a really interesting family store. Anybody that hears the story says, “You’re kidding.” This should be a reality TV show.
Q: What’s the future for the store?
A: Kate and Nick, they want to keep the store alive and well. Did I think I would be doing this in my 60s? Not a chance, but 10 years from now I may still be here. Nobody is intending to sell it.