Hooksett, the small town I come from in New Hampshire, does not have much to show for itself these days. Littered with shopping plazas and used car dealerships, little evidence remains of what was once both a beautiful tourist destination and a bustling manufacturing village in decades long past. Perhaps the only remnant of these times is Robie's Country Store, a lone testament of more fruitful days for my community.
Despite being a historic landmark, it is actually difficult to find any information about the history of this building. It was run by the Robie family from 1887 to 1997, but existed decades before that through other owners. The building burned down twice — in 1857 and 1906 — and was rebuilt promptly each time.
Situated at a railroad stop and the Merrimack River, Robie’s served as an ideal hub for a town that oddly had no main street. Furthermore, the store also served as a post office for some time. Townspeople gathered at Robie’s to buy groceries and supplies, send letters, grab lunch, and discuss the news of the day.
In the early 1950s, Robie’s began to attract the attention of presidential candidates. This started a tradition of presidential hopefuls visiting the store and often stopping for a picture with a member of the Robie family. Such photographs and all sorts of political memorabilia fill a whole wall of the store. I brought a Dutch friend to Robie’s Country Store and months later, during the primary for the 2008 election, he told me he saw candidates visiting Robie’s on Dutch news.
I know firsthand the more recent history of Robie’s. In 1997, Robie’s closed because the Robie sons did not want to take over. The store was the busiest I had ever seen it on its last day of operation. There was a mixture of excitement and sadness as everyone waited for the train to pull up so the engineer could stop inside for one last cup of coffee. They emptied out an old Coke machine and gave all the old-fashioned glass soda bottles to children for free. (I still have mine!)
Needless to say, the whole town was disappointed and efforts to reopen Robie’s began immediately. I remember my middle school art teacher helped to form a committee. Within a year or two, they succeeded and new owners came in. The efforts to preserve Robie’s didn’t stop there and in 2000 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. There are even plans to build a dock on the river, which the original building featured.
Robie’s is definitely a landmark worth supporting if – for some reason – you are passing through the area. You will have a nice lunch there and there are some cute New Hampshire souvenirs. Plus there is plenty to photograph both inside and out! If you ever find yourself in Hooksett, Robie’s Country Store will not disappoint you. And I, for one, hope that Robie’s never becomes in danger of closing again, as Hooksett truly is not the same without it.