John Reny, owner of Renys department stores, stands in front of the Renys warehouse on Route 1 in Newcastle on Friday, Nov. 16. When Reny isn’t tending to his executive role with his namesake’s store, he’s playing music and working in his garden. (Johnathan Riley photo)

Characters of the County: John Reny’s Lincoln County Life

by Johnathan Riley for The Lincoln County News

The space between Christmas and New Year’s often feels like the lull between two songs where the world gets to collect its breath. John Reny, a musician, gardener, and owner of Renys department stores, has been a part of the frenzy of the holiday spirit in Damariscotta, and the lives of Mainers, for a long time.

The Renys mainstay storefront in Damariscotta was founded in 1949 by Reny’s father, R.H. Reny, and now has 17 locations around the state and 500 employees.

Two years after the business’s founding, John Reny was born at what is now LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus in Damariscotta. He grew up on Biscay Pond in Damariscotta in the home located on the property of modern day Biscay Orchards with his two younger brothers, Bob and Mike Reny.

A few other families and institutions have stood the test of time in Lincoln County, such as Lincoln Academy, where four generations of the Reny family have passed through its halls. Reny, the third generation of his family to attend LA, was a basketball player at the school and student council president his senior year as a member of the class of 1969.

Part of what’s made the Renys business model special and successful, according to John Reny, was R.H. Reny’s attention to his customers and what the communities needed their stores were in. This philosophy is something the company continues to hold dear to this day, John Reny said.

The company and the family that owns it has tried to do its part in keeping downtown Damariscotta viable by maintaining its presence and keeping popular shops open there. For example, Reny said the family owns the building the post office is in and that they’re able to keep the rent low enough to keep it there, which is also the case for other buildings on Main Street.

“It’s pretty easy to just go, ‘well, whatever,’ and then you end up with a downtown full of things that don’t mean anything,” Reny said.

In the early 2000s before the company moved from its old warehouse on School Street in Damariscotta to the current location on Route 1 in Newcastle, John Reny had a choice to make. He and his brother Bob Reny, the vice president of the company at the time, had to make a decision about moving their smaller downtown location, Renys Underground, off of Main Street to their warehouse on School Street, which is slightly larger.

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Originally published January 1, 2024 in The Lincoln County News. Click on the link above to read the full article.