THE BETHEL JOURNALS—BETHEL MAINE HISTORY
BROWN’S VARIETY STORE
Brown’s Variety store and Bryant’s Market may rank as the one of the most memorable stores for Bethel residents of the 1936 to 1980 era. The Brown family were special citizens of Bethel for the quiet, efficient, friendly, competent way they provided customers with just about everything imaginable in the days before big box Wal-Mart came along. They had everything from kids toys to clothing and much more.
In 1936, Leroy (1890-1954) and Abbie Brown (1893-1980) came to Bethel from Fryeburg and they and their son James and wife Beatrice operated Brown’s Variety here for more than forty years before the business was sold to Martin Mendoza in 1984.
”Mrs. Chapman’s account of the building’s history starts at 1859 when Daniel Twitchell put up the building for use as a store and dwelling.
Abner Davis and Moses Coburn sold dry goods, crockery, clothing and grain from the building in 1867.
In 1892 Calvin Bisbee and Clarence Fox became partners in the building located at the corner of Main and Spring Streets (later known as Brown’s Variety). Bisbee was also operating a store in the new Odd Fellows building.
About 1898 Calvin Bisbee left his partnership with Fox and Fox bought full ownership of their store. In 1898 the Rialto Skating Rink building which was leased by the Bethel Chair Company burned down. After fire debris had been cleared, Bisbee bought the lot and built a two story grist mill on it.
After Bisbee left his partnership with Fox, Mr. Fox ran the store as sole owner for about the next 23 years. In1923, Mr. Fox formed a partnership with Herbert I Bean and the firm incorporated with the name Bean & Fox Co.
Clarence Fox was born in Eddington, Maine, November 11, 1872, the son of David A. and Eva (Rowe) Fox. He was educated in the schools of Errol and Milan, N.H., and Bethel, Maine. He married Miss Eva Bryant December 14, 1899. They had one adopted daughter, Marion Bean Kimball. Mr. Fox had purchased the former Alpine House on Mason Street.
The Fox and Bean store was noted as a popular marketing center ( in 1931), for here is found a fresh supply of groceries, bakery products, fresh vegetables, and meats. Courteous clerks offer efficient service.
Mr. Bean ran lumber and sales rooms on Main Street (the Fox and Bean store) where he carries a complete line of lumber, buildings material, finished material and all accessories that pertain to the needs of carpentering.
During the winter Mr. Bean conducted a fur business, buying and selling raw furs, hides and pelts. He was an independent buyer and one of the largest dealers in the county. Practically all of his stock went to New York furriers. He also carried a complete line of traps, guns and ammunition.
I remember that while going to Bethel Grammar School, 1945 -1948, H.I. Bean was still in the guns and ammo business from his home on Spring Street. At noon times we would go on sightseeing visits to Mr. Bean’s house. DGB.
In 1984 Martin Mendoza purchased the business and building from the Browns. Mr. Mendoza had plans to transform the variety store into more, as he described it, into an L.L. Bean type of business. His tenure was rather short. Mrs. Chapman wrote that Mary Gillies, realtor, bought the property in the late 1980s. Later Kennett Realty, Edward and Mary Jo Kennett, opened their office there.
December 12 , 1992, fire destroyed the Kennett Realty office building (formerly Brown’s Variety Store) on the corner of Spring and Main Streets. Also lost in the fire was the former Central Service Station and Bowling Alley.
Sources: Bethel News about Calvin Bisbee; Bethel Citizen special edition printed in 1931 to be available for the 1931 Indian Raid’s 150th anniversary celebration. Jim Brown was a solid supporter of Chamber efforts to promote Bethel Main Street business. In the Fall 1997 issue of the Bethel Historical Society The Bethel Courier, Rosalind Rowe Chapman authored a complete historical survey of Main Street.
The Bethel Journals
PO Box 763
Bethel, Maine 04217
February 27, 2013
Brown’s Variety Store from a photo printed in the 1931 Special Edition of The Oxford County Citizen. The original building dates from 1859; it was lost in a fire December 12, 1992. Before the Browns who came to Bethel in 1936, previous well known store keepers here were Calvin Bisbee, Clarence Fox and H.I. Bean. Note the former Grange hall in the photo’s right rear.