Fourth generation gives new life to old building

By April Hall

The next-gen entrepreneurs set up shop in what had been their great-grandfather’s department store in Maine’s Kennebec Valley.

Some people have a lucky pair of socks, or a pair of earrings that brings them success. For the Sterns/LaCasse family, it’s an address: 4 Madison Ave. in Skowhegan, Maine.

Frederick Sterns opened a department store in the 14,000-square-foot building in 1929. Today some people around town still refer to the building as the department store.

Some others still call it the Village Candlelight Restaurant, because Sterns’ daughter-in-law, Florence, opened the eatery in the basement of the building in 1963. The restaurant did so well that it expanded into a banquet facility and took over the department store in 1977.

Jesse LaCasse, Florence’s 36-year-old grandson, has great memories of those days.

“We ate so well,” he says with a laugh. “I have three cousins and a brother. We would run around there, bringing friends. We were eating buffets daily. I don’t know how she kept it all going.”

After Florence retired from the restaurant in 1995, the building was sold through owner financing several times. But each business there failed –- another restaurant, a wholesale golf shop, a nightclub -– and each time the building would come back to the family.

Nearly 10 years ago, Jesse and his brother, Nathan LaCasse, and sister-in-law, Mary LaCasse, took over the building for their own ventures. They each own a third of the space.

In the basement, Jesse makes baseball bats. He played in high school and college and professionally in Europe, and his passion has now become a career.

On the main floor, Nathan and Mary work in the commercial kitchen to make boil-in-the-bag food products they sell at farm markets. Jesse’s showroom, where he has 300 bats on display, is also on that floor.

But just in February, Jesse expanded to the third floor, getting closer to occupying the space his grandmother and great-grandfather seemed to do so easily.

There he opened a batting cage/softball and baseball training center. He thought it was a good idea to diversify.

“People only need so many bats a year,” Jesse sys. “And there’s nothing like this in town.”

Skowhagen is a major baseball town, he says. His offerings private appointments at the batting cages and  monthly passes for families.

“I think [my great-grandfather and grandmother] would be proud to see the building being put back to good use,” Jesse says.

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