When I first visited Wallace’s Market, I hadn’t driven the 20 minutes off of Route 1 to the village of Friendship in at least fourteen years. Friendship has always been a part of my life; in high school, the peninsula was the next one South from where I lived in Cushing, which was, in turn, the next peninsula South from where I had grown up in St. George. During bored nights as an aimless teenager, in an era before cell phones and at a time when “The Internet” was something that people were barely starting to talk about, we would often end up in Friendship after a long night of driving around with no particular destination in mind. We’d make trouble with the other teenagers who drove pickup trucks at the Friendship Scoop, or visit our friends from the next town over, who were just a tiny bit tougher than we were. On those nights, the trip out Route 220, a winding, hilly road with plenty of steep drops and no streetlights, made us feel like the only people in the world, a beat-up teenager’s car tearing a path of headlights and Dead Kennedys through the relative peace and quiet of the small fishing village.
Today, the road is newly paved, and the ride out the peninsula doesn’t seem nearly as long. But that sleepy village is still there, just the way I remember it. The relative center of the community is built around Wallace’s Market, the only store in town, the store that broke Friendship’s nearly century-long prohibition on alcohol sales. The white clapboarded building has a few old, rusty, mechanical gas pumps outside, with the eaves of the structure decorated with the lobster buoys of local fishermen. At first glance, the interior of the store reminds me of many of the small stores located at the center of small communities throughout Maine. There’s the worn wooden floors, the half-filled coffee pots, and the packaged cream horns on the counter. There’s the live lobster tank, with a handwritten sign advertising lobster for $4.99 (plus an invitation to “swim with the lobster” for a dollar more). There’s the deli area in the back, the small table for dining in, where a regular sits pecking at a laptop across from a shelf stacked with backgammon and cribbage boards.
In a part of Maine where a certain self-conscious folksiness can sometimes threaten to overrun the area’s naturally-occuring charm (for further study, see: Camden in the Summertime, dogs wearing rainslickers, or anything Linda Bean touches), it’s nice to see a village store not just surviving, but thriving.
On closer examination, though, it occurs to me that all of the store’s inventory is of a much higher quality than I am used to seeing in small village stores. The coffee is supplied by Rock City Roasters. The sliced bread bears a label from the Atlantic Baking Company. Small-batch gourmet spice blends line the counters. The small butcher section is filled with fresh cuts of rosy red beef. The refrigerated snack case is filled with the requisite shop-made coleslaw and Shepard’s Pie, but also includes yuppie-friendly snack-sized containers of yogurt-based spinach dip or carrots with hummus. There’s none of the dust you see on the boxed Stove-Top found in many village stores, none of the separated bottles of Clamato lining the bottom shelves of forgotten grocery stores. Instead, Wallace’s Market feels vital and alive, with an army of loyal customers driving a quick turnover of inventory, and demanding fresh meat and produce. There’s nothing forgotten-feeling about Wallace’s Market, a store that continues to thrive as the center of Friendship’s retail economy.
If the store itself is reminiscent of a Maine institution imbued with a big spark of life, the store’s “Boston” sandwich is no different. An invention of owner (and Boston native) Ernie Coletti, the sandwich is like a classic Maine Italian on steroids. In place of limp, lifeless ham, Wallace’s Market stacks layer upon layer of salami, mortadella, and capicola on a pleasantly funky base of provolone cheese. There’s the requisite tomato, onion, and green pepper, topped with sliced black olives, a healthy pour of oil, and a sprinkling of some sort of pickled gardinera. I couldn’t make out all the details of this final ingredient, but there was a definite sour snap from the salad that perfectly complemented the rich, fatty meats. The bread was also a standout; instead of the usual super-squishy white loaf used on a typical Maine Italian, the bread at Wallace’s Market is chewier, more substantial, and well-suited to contain the sandwich’s messier ingredients. It’s easy to imagine it used for a hot sandwich, like a chicken or a meatball parmesan, which I will be certain to return to Friendship to try next time.
In a part of Maine where a certain self-conscious folksiness can sometimes threaten to overrun the area’s naturally-occuring charm (for further study, see: Camden in the Summertime, dogs wearing rainslickers, or anything Linda Bean touches), it’s nice to see a village store not just surviving, but thriving. Wallace’s isn’t a leftover, a castoff from an era from before Wal-Mart came to town; instead, it remains a real, vital part of a small community that can sometimes seem cut off from the rest of the world, blissfully unaffected by time. They’re serving inexpensive, creative twists on classic Maine sandwich shop fare, and I will definitely be back to explore more of the menu.
Wallace’s Market; 11 Harbor Road, Friendship, ME 04547; (207) 832-2200; Facebook