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‘The Store Ampersand’ could be your new favorite shop

Coffee, warm pastries and uncommon spices intermingle in the air. The chatter of regular customers greets you, and everything is a beautiful array of colors and products that are eclectic and familiar; these are the smells, sounds and sights of “The Store Ampersand.”

This little gem – equal parts general store, boutique and farmer’s market – carries fresh produce, Maine-made products, and gifts suitable for everyone you know. This shop offers products for all age groups, with an impressive selection of wine and local beers for those over 21 and adorable stuffed animals for the child at heart.

Art supplies and knits are tucked neatly in a corner, nestled between balsam fir pillows made in Maine. Most products are artisanal, many are created locally, and all are worth checking out. 

Whether you’re cooking a fanciful, frilly curry or just want a simple pasta for dinner, you’ll find every ingredient you need here. Snack mixes and flavorful chocolates are perfect picks for students in dorms, and you’re bound to find a beautiful pair of earrings for Mother’s Day and a Jellycat for your best friend at the same time. 

Operated by mother-daughter duo Roberta and Emilia Bradson, who you will usually find making lattes, stocking shelves, or chatting with regulars, the store is always abuzz— and the customer service is impeccable. 

Despite the store’s beauty, many University of Maine students don’t visit downtown Orono. Emilia Bradson believes that most who own cars drive to the usual stops: Hannaford, Aroma Joe’s and Walmart. Those without vehicles of their own don’t want to walk or utilize the bus to downtown.

However, you wouldn’t get coffee like this at a chain store. The French lavender latte is a favorite among customers, and their fresh, homemade pastries and baked goods are the perfect pairing. 

Even without a large college crowd, the family-run cafe and shop has withstood the test of time. The family bought it in 1995, but the owners attest that the store itself has been open for around 40 years. 

“We like being the best-kept secret,” Emilia said.

Though it may be “secret,” I’d urge you to make that journey over the bridge and down Mill Street — it’s worth it. 

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