Stepping into Orne’s Candy Store in downtown Boothbay Harbor is like stepping back in time. The shop is full of late 19th-century charm, from the fudge-filled glass case that lines one wall to the candy jars that dot the room. And each item has a handmade label.
Co-owner John Webster credits the store staying within two families for its longevity and brand consistency.
The location has remained mostly unchanged since Addie Orne first opened the store in 1885. Over the next 75 years, Orne, also known as “Aunt Addie,” ran the store well into her 90s. In 1960, Webster’s father Wollcott took over with the promise to maintain the old-fashioned atmosphere. Wollcott also worked to create Orne’s signature fudge which has remained one of the most popular items.
“It's a fun business. Nobody comes in here unhappy. Nobody leaves here unhappy,” said Webster. He also enjoys interacting with the customers. “Every so often somebody says ‘Oh, you're a truly evil place” and I say ‘Yes, I am the devil and I’m here to tempt you.’”
Webster and wife Jean took over Orne’s in the late 1970s. He co-owns it with his nephews Areth and Adam Foster-Webster. Webster also spent several decades working at New York’s SUNY Sullivan community college as a physical education teacher. And he coached women’s volleyball and men’s basketball. Webster retired in 1999. In 2019, he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame where he got to see many of his old students again.
“It was a very, very moving event,” he said.
As for Orne’s, Webster has tried to continue sourcing chocolates from Maine. However, the store had to switch its fudge supplier to a Massachusetts-based business after a Lewiston supplier shut down.
“I tell everybody I don’t make (the fudge) but I’ve sacrificed my boyish figure so that everyone will have a good (product),” said Webster.
He believes part of the charm of Orne’s is its authentic old-fashioned environment. The building was torn down and rebuilt under the supervision of Webster’s mother Mildred, who is immortalized with a plaque on the bench outside the store; but the glass cases are original to Orne’s.
Orne’s also pays tribute to its origins with a photo of Addie Orne that hangs above one glass case and is joined by a large portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Webster’s father rescued the portrait from the dump. Webster said it is a tribute to Lincoln County.
Besides the candy, Orne’s is also known for its annual rock-skipping contest. What started out as a traditional pastime during family clam bakes has become a featured event during Windjammers Days. The contest, which is dedicated to Webster’s brother, Arthur, celebrated its 18th anniversary this year.
Webster is thankful for all the support Orne’s and its events have garnered over the years. He feels blessed for all the “wonderful people” he’s worked with, and for the generations of customers. So Webster has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“I plan to be that old guy sitting in the window selling candy as long as I can,” he said.