PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — After more than 15 years in business, Ben LeBlanc is closing up shop on Ben’s Trading Post, a store that had become the area go-to place for hunting and outdoor enthusiasts.
An expanding medical marijuana business from Caribou has purchased the building.
LeBlanc announced a going-out-of-business sale Saturday and shut the doors permanently that afternoon. Until then, Ben’s Trading Post was the only store in the Presque Isle area to sell outdoor recreational clothing, footwear, hunting rifles and ammunition in the same location.
The closure marks the latest in a growing list of longtime businesses that are closing their doors, citing online shopping and difficulties with getting inventory during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just last week, Houlton’s last furniture store, Furniture and Floors North, announced that it would close for similar reasons.
The building at 719 Main St. has been sold to Richardson Rentals, LLC, which owns and operates Richardson Remedies, a medical marijuana store in Caribou, LeBlanc said.
Richardson Remedies is seeking approval for a medical marijuana license from the Presque Isle City Council, which will vote on the matter during its Sept. 29 meeting. If approved, the company will open its second store in the former Trading Post location. The company had previously been approved for a medical marijuana license for 745 Main St., which currently houses the Oriental Pearl restaurant.
LeBlanc said that multiple factors, including online shopping and COVID-19-related inventory shortages, played a role in his decision to sell the store. He does not have plans to relocate, though he said that remains a possibility.
“There was a demand for everything, not just firearms,” LeBlanc said. “Between ammunition and guns, clothing and footwear, we just couldn’t get enough of the products we needed and wanted. Once we couldn’t get enough inventory, we didn’t need to have as many employees.”
Prior to opening Ben’s Trading Post, LeBlanc worked for Roy’s Army & Navy, a sporting goods store owned by the late Dana Packard. When that store closed, LeBlanc purchased the business, renamed it Ben’s Trading Post and relocated to the corner of Chapman Street and Riverside Drive.
Over the years, LeBlanc’s Main Street location had become a favorite spot for hunting enthusiasts. LeBlanc said that his favorite memories came from helping people find exactly the right equipment for their outdoor adventures.
“I’m going to miss the kids that came in to get their first firearm or hunting boots or to have their first animal tagged on our scales,” LeBlanc said. “There were a lot of good memories. We even had an employee get married in the store right after we opened.”
Though Presque Isle area customers remained supportive in recent years, LeBlanc noted that online shopping options made purchases more convenient for people who lived in more remote areas of Aroostook.
He urged people to continue supporting locally owned businesses, especially as the pandemic and online shopping continue to make operating such businesses a challenge.
“For businesses trying to stay open, what it comes down to is the people of Aroostook County,” LeBlanc said. “They will decide who will be here [in the future].”