AUGUSTA – The Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association announced their prestigious annual awards at the Maine Food Means Business 2014 Summit held recently at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport. Among this year’s honorees were Kathy and Ed Bell, owners of Bell’s IGA in Calais and Orono, as the 2014 Grocer of the Year.
Awarded annually, these prestigious honors are given to members who meet the highest standards of excellence. These include contributions to the association, community service, business excellence in providing a positive workplace, increased sales, contributions to the food industry through legislative or educational activities, and a commitment to furthering opportunities for other Maine businesses.
In 1976, at the ages of 21 and 19, Ed and Kathy Bell moved from Patten to Calais and took over the Calais IGA Foodliner. The original store, located on Washington St., was about 8,000 square feet. Having to pick potatoes as kids, the young couple both believed that you must work hard for what you have.
Ed’s father, Leighton “Bud” Bell, operated a small grocery store in Caribou before relocating to Patten. Needless to say, Ed began his career in the grocery industry at a very young age. Although it was tough for the young couple to move to a new city, their strong work ethic, frugal philosophies, and new marketing concepts allowed them to achieve success. Through continuous savings passed on to the customers, Ed and Kathy’s ability to understand the needs of the community have allowed them to triumph in the grocery industry.
In 1999, the Bell’s took a huge leap of faith and opened their second location in Orono. At the time, this store was much larger than the Calais location, with approximately 21,000 square feet. Bob Craft and David Pike, two key employees from the Calais store, relocated to this location and have continued to grow the business for the last 14 years.
In 2006, the Bell’s expanded again, relocating to North Street in Calais, increasing from 8,000 to 20,000 square feet. Ed and Kathy had faith that if they expanded to a larger store, they could significantly increase their business. The first six years proved this, drawing customers from all over Washington County and New Brunswick. Despite the new competition from the Super WalMart, 2013 was the best year to date.
With their hands-on approach and philosophy of providing value to the community, the Bells are certain the future of their business is bright. Ed and Kathy strongly believe that in all economic times, either good or bad, people are looking for value. It is the one word that the Bell’s want you to remember when thinking of their stores. They currently employ 140 people at the Calais and Orono locations.