Renee rented the space at 51A West Gray Road (Route 202) in Gray, back in July. A soft opening took place on December 31, 2017. “Of course, I was terrified, but I have had a lot of family support to help this dream become a reality. We were open part-time in the evenings. Now, I’m curious to see what will happen with the tourists coming into town,” she said.
Renee is originally from South Portland and since returning from Honolulu, she has taught at Bonny Eagle Middle School for the past 20 years. Four or five years ago, she learned to play the ukulele and joined the SLUKES (Sebago Lakes Ukulele Society) that play the first Thursday of every month at Pat’s Pizza and they perform at a variety of functions as well. This year, they will be performing at the 4th Annual Casco Bay Uke Fest held in Portland this July.
Aloha Maine also offers ukulele private or small group lessons for beginners. Renee helped Librarian and SLUKE member Darcel Devou at the Gray Public Library with a ukulele donation to start a uke lending program. She hopes to expand her outreach to homeschoolers. She wants to be a positive force in this area. “There is no need to have musical ability to play the uke and no need to be able to read music”, she said. All you need is the desire to learn and some perseverance to practice. In the fall, she wants to start a group for Hawaiian quilting, and classes for sewing and knitting with wool and fabric from the islands.
The store is a peaceful, kind and loving gift store and gathering place. Renee has big plans for social and educational gatherings starting in the fall. For now, she is content to sell items like Kona coffee, “Hawaiian Bath and Body” products, Koa wood jewelry, chocolate macadamia nuts and “Amahi” ukuleles. She now carries the entire line of “Ka Ora” Bracelets designed by Audrey Lovering from Standish. Each bracelet is handmade using 100-year-old tools and methods. Each of her designs are beautiful, inspirational, durable and sentimental like the women who inspired them. In addition, “Love Rocks Me” cards, notepads, coasters and trivets are the designs of Ellen Thayer in South Portland. She uses heart rocks shaped by the surf along the coast of Maine to create artwork that she photographs.
In addition, Aloha Maine! is now an official “Life is Good” retailer. She carries the newest line of women’s apparel and accessories. The company spreads good vibes, sharing how optimism can empower us even in the hardest of times. Ten percent of their net profits go toward helping children in need. “Everything in the store is meant to inspire ourselves and others,” she said.
Renee has had a difficult start to the business when recently, her oldest son, Royce, committed suicide while away at college. This devastating blow has made focusing on the shop a necessity to continuing with life for her and her son Reid. “There are days I feel like curling up on the floor and staying there,” Renee said. “These two communities, Gray and New Gloucester, I just can’t say enough wonderful things about them.” She has received support from all of her friends, Royce’s friends, along with people she has never met. “There’s so much love here. It is what is holding me up” The senior class of GNG High School is gifting a baby grand piano in Royce’s name to the school. He was passionate of performing for others no matter the size of the stage.
On June 3rd, there will be a benefit concert for the Royce Foreman Memorial Scholarship held at Spring Meadows Golf Club . Mele’uhane, a Hawaiian Father-Sons Trio from Kona, Hawaii will perform. From 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. there will be a meet and greet with cocktails and appetizers and from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. will be the concert. The cost is $10 at the door. This year two GNG Seniors will receive $1,000 scholarships in his memory. In addition, there will be a raffle for an Amahi Koa Ukulele, where the proceeds will be given to a family in Gray whose mom is battling cancer. She has school-aged children and every amount of help is appreciated.
For more information about Aloha Maine or the fundraiser, visit them on Facebook, email or call 207-808-9642. The shop is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.