County Faces: Chantal Graves of Presque Isle
AROOSTOOK COUNTY – For six years, Chantal Graves has been the owner of Merchants on the Corner, a specialty gift shop on Main Street in Presque Isle. While growing up in Madawaska, Graves (formerly Cyr) never thought about becoming a small business owner, but the opportunity came at an unexpected and sad time for her.
In February 2010, Graves’ mother-in-law Angie Graves, the original owner of Merchants on the Corner, was dying. She called Graves and asked if she would like to own the store someday.
Graves told her mother-in-law that she would eventually like to own the store after her youngest son, who was 9 months old at the time, started school. But a few minutes after that phone call, Angie Graves called again to say that the store now belonged to her daughter-in-law.
Under Graves’ ownership, Merchants on the Corner has expanded from being a yarn shop to also selling specialty beer and wine, gift baskets, books from Maine authors and Made in Maine gifts.
“She had owned another shop, The Country Store, before this one on Main Street down where McDonald’s is, before they tore down all those buildings. It was in her blood,” Graves says, about her mother-in-law. “People tell me ‘She would be so proud of what you’ve done with this.’”
Merchants on the Corner is what Graves likes to call “Presque Isle’s Hidden Secret.” Sitting on the corner of Main Street, the store doesn’t just have great local products. Graves likes to hold events such as wine tastings, knitting classes on Monday nights and book signings because they bring community members together. She has lived in Presque Isle for 23 years and is glad to be doing her part in bringing shoppers to the businesses on the town’s Main Street.
“All of us on Main Street offer something unique,” Graves says. “A lot of times people will come in with jewelry from Wilder’s and little signs from Country Collectibles and they’ll put a couple bottles of wine in. I’ll make a big gift basket and it’s a bunch of products from local businesses.”
In addition to running her business, Graves has worked at Walmart in Presque Isle for 18 years. She considers herself lucky to be able to continue both jobs because of her two part-time employees at Merchants on the Corner. Working for a large company and running a small store, Graves says, could not be more different.
“When you work at Walmart, you punch in and you punch out, but when you own your own business, you work 24/7,” Graves says. “You’re always thinking of new ideas to drum up new business. You try to find the niche that no one else around has.”
Graves’ niche comes from striving to be a destination place for people around Aroostook County and those who visit from away. Many of her customers come from outside the Presque Isle area for the specialty items and local products that they can’t find at a larger chain store. There is a relaxed atmosphere during store events as customers sit on the couches near the corner windows and enjoy each other’s company and stories.
“The community support has been great,” Graves says. “When we have our wine tastings, it’s really fun when people come out and go from business to business and sit on the couch. It’s really comfortable here.”
The building that Merchants on the Corner resides in was once the home of 13 different local businesses in the years before Graves’ mother-in-law first opened the store. Graves has continued the tradition of serving local customers and hopes that they support all small businesses in Presque Isle and Aroostook County. Her goal for the future is to keep giving her customers products and services that they love while making her store as unique as other local businesses.
“Supporting a local business helps support families who run small businesses. If they didn’t support local business, we’d just be another empty storefront.” Graves says. “I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to run a successful business and I am honored that the last six years have gone smoothly.”