by Janet Stoica
Thompson, Conn. – “My name will stay on the store, but I won’t be seeing my great and loyal customers every day,” said Rollie, “that’s the part I’ll miss most of all.” After 20 years of ownership and meeting and greeting hundreds, if not thousands, of regular customers, Roland Fitts, Jr. has decided to take a break.
About two weeks ago, Rollie left his variety store at 1213 Thompson Road in Thompson for good. Well, he might still stop in now and then to see how the new owners are doing but that’s about all wrapped up for now. What a store! “The name says it all,” Rollie said, “It’s got a variety of products from breakfast cereal and milk to beer and wine and everything in-between.
We were always the top seller of lottery products in Windham County.” An interesting lottery statistic, since Rollie’s Variety is located in the upper northeast quadrant of the county. They do get a pretty large number of customers from just over the Massachusetts’ state line too. Their website hits indicate that Massachusetts computer users are their biggest browsers.
The store sells items ranging from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to BBQ charcoal briquettes to DVDs to Elmer’s Glue to chicken broth and baked beans. Yep, it’s all there for any customer or visitor to see. Need ice melt, they have it. Windshield washer fluid, it’s right here. Tobacco to roll your own? No prob. Beer and/or wine-making supplies? Come on in and get them. The place is so unique you could say it’s like one of those Old Country Stores that the flatlanders refer to.
“One day our parking lot held three different types of transportation that truly reflected our customer base,” said Rollie, “a lawn tractor, a golf cart, and a saddled horse. You can’t get any different than that.
“Our customers came from far and wide,” he continued. I was in the Philadelphia Airport three years ago when I was running to another terminal to catch a connecting flight and a guy yelled out my name saying Hey, you’re Rollie from Connecticut! I couldn’t believe it. A few months ago, I happened to be at the Plainville Casino in Massachusetts (which is 60 miles away near Foxborough Stadium) and a waitperson in one of the restaurants knew me from living in Charlton, Mass, and visiting my store.”
Before Rollie’s Variety came to be, Mr. Fitts was a truck driver for Harvey Industries and also held a 30-hour part-time job with Holly Farms in Webster, He decided to take the plunge into store ownership with his brother and son. The original building used to be a restaurant supply business that sold products by catalog only. “It was a complete renovation,” says Mr. Fitts. “We tore out all the electrical wiring and roofing and started from scratch. The building was squirrel-infested too. We had to install a new septic system and well with new plumbing and electrical. All specs were brought up to code and then we were ready to stock products.”
Rollie developed quite a reputation and loyalty to customers who would come into his store asking for certain products (you name it, he would get it for you) and from there, the trust and reliability began. He once had a loyal customer from northern Worcester County visit him to show off the silver medal that the U.S. Hockey Team had won at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Turns out the guy was one of the team’s hockey coaches. Rollie and his customers treated each other like family and you really can’t ask for anything better than that. “I always liked retail,” Rollie said, “and I’m also the world’s biggest critic as far as critiquing other convenience stores. What I felt other convenience stores lacked I put into my store and I guess it worked as my customers appreciated my product lineups and store layout. My neighbors always looked out for me too. We have about ten Connecticut State Troopers who live near the store and they would be available at a moment’s notice if we ever needed them.”
Rollie says he’s most proud of the fact that he’s sponsored a local Little League Baseball Team for his entire 20 years of store ownership. “I watched these kids grow up and recently a former Little Leaguer came into my store with his own kid who’s now on my team. You know you’re getting old when that happens!” Of course, fireworks were always a big part of Rollie’s business over the 4th of July holiday, and he sold plenty in the store and under the tent he’d have set-up in his parking lot. Special customers also stopped in on their way to Thompson Speedway’s racing events, including many pit crews with their racing cars in tow. “I’ll miss everyone for sure,” said Rollie, “but after working 70 hours a week for many years, it’s time to give myself some time to relax.”
Rollie’s Variety has been under new ownership since March, and Rollie hopes his former customers continue to enjoy the same great service and experience they always had when he was in residence. He stated that he wanted to match the new owners with his store’s customer base and style and feels it will all work out just fine. Customers will continue to see one familiar face – Kim will still be involved in the store’s operations.