Fred and Betty Ann Rainbow have the dubious distinction of having been driven out of business by Amazon.com. Twice.
First, it was bookstores they owned in Gainesville, Florida. Today it is Duffy’s Island Hardware, Peaks Island’s only hardware store.
The couple treat their fate with good humor. “Amazon got us twice,” Ben Rainbow said Tuesday.
“I will never forgive this guy,” he said, referring to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “We continue to wait for him to go bankrupt.”
Duffy’s closing Wednesday – named after one of the couple’s dogs – will leave a hole in the tight-knit community all year round.
For Island resident Bill Oliver, this was the store he could rely on for a box of nails, nuts and bolts or a roll of duct tape to complete a home repair project. Often the store was the difference between a quick errand and a shopping spree to and from mainland Portland’s stores via ferry, an excursion that could take hours.
“One of our early mottos was that we save you a trip ashore,” Betty Ann Rainbow said.
As he stopped on Tuesday to pick up grab tools for his wife – she uses them to clean up litter on the island – Oliver said the store’s closure left him with a “feeling of emptiness”.
The Rainbows said they share that sentiment, but ultimately their small store couldn’t compete with larger retailers who can ship products directly to a customer’s doorstep in a day or two.
Duffy’s Island Hardware opened in early 2014 – four years after the Rainbows closed Florida bookstores – and quickly established itself as a trusted resource for the island’s nearly 1,000 residents, whose number triples during the summer.
The islanders particularly appreciated the year-round presence. Fred Rainbow, however, said business wasn’t exactly buoyant once the weather cooled and summer visitors headed home.
He boasts of having read the New York Times and the Portland Press Herald cover to cover every day, as well as a few novels. Most of the time, friends came to discuss politics.
“All he needed was a flat-bellied stove,” Betty Ann Rainbow said.
But Fred Rainbow said the goal was never to make a lot of money; the goal was to provide service to Peaks, where he spent every summer until he moved full-time to the island in 2013.
“It was a lot of work, but it was rewarding work,” he said of the store. “And it was modestly profitable.”
“Very modestly,” Betty Ann Rainbow interjected.
The Rainbows plan to donate the remaining tools and equipment and they hope at least some will go to Somali immigrants in the state. Fred Rainbow said it takes a few tools and supplies to truly make a house a home in a new land.
The Rainbows said they know this week will be filled with a lot of sad goodbyes, likely outnumbering sales.
“I made a lot of acquaintances and very good friends,” he said.
Fred Rainbow said he and his wife considered selling the business, but their landlord had already pledged the store space to another tenant. The couple have always considered the location – a short walk from the ferry terminal – a key part of the store’s identity, since almost everyone on the island regularly visits the ferry terminal.
The couple also realized that a new owner would likely face the same competition as them, but without the same convenient location.
In the immediate term, the Rainbows said they hope to travel to Maine and have a long list of places they haven’t been, from Rangeley to Acadia.
The Rainbows also said they would spend time visiting their grandchildren in New York, many of whom helped out in the store during their visit. The couple’s 5-year-old granddaughter has been particularly helpful over the past year, greeting customers and letting them know immediately if the store has what they’re buying.
Renters face a charging dilemma as US cities shift to electric vehicles