By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, November 4, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Jean Power, general manager of Colt News Store in Hampton, poses in the shop. Power began working as a clerk in the store in 1985. [Photo by Jamie Cohen]

HAMPTON — In its heyday, it was a place for locals to gather to discuss politics and, of course, the latest gossip.

If you were running for office, it was on the list to “stop in” if you wanted the vote of Hampton residents.

The place was Colt News Store and after 81 years it announced on Monday that it will be closing its doors for the last time.

Al Casassa, owner and longtime local lawyer, called the decision difficult, as he, his late parents, Herbert and Olga, and grandmother Hazel M. Simonds had run the store for more than 61 years, seven days a week.

“I’ve been here almost every day with the exception of college, law school and military service,” said Casassa. “My law office has been in the same building since 1960.”

The news came as a shock to many people who still frequent the place.

It also brought back memories.

Page 606, Randall’s “History of Hampton, 1888-1988”: Lindsay’s Barber Shop and Restaurant, now Colt News Store from Hampton Union, December 9, 1909.
{Photo not in original article}
[Courtesy Glyn Eastman]

Casassa said his family acquired the business in 1944 from David F. Colt Sr.

At that time, the store consisted of newspapers, magazines, medicines, gifts, candy, Kodak films and tobacco.

The store also contained a soda fountain and lunch counter.

David F. Colt Jr., who lives in North Hampton, remembers working in his father’s shop as a kid, hauling newspapers from the train station across the square to the store.

“People would gather for the 5 o’clock papers,” said Colt. “Christopher Toppan would walk up each day still wearing the short rubber boots he wore in the barn. When I think of it, I can picture him clearly and still smell the manure-covered boots.”

Colt said his father opened the store when he came back from World War I.

“When he came home from the war he went back to his job as a street car conductor and thought he was set for life,” said Colt. “But he was fired for sassing a lady and didn’t know where to turn.”

He opened up a restaurant, which he later sold to Al Lamie, and then opened Colt News.

“My father worked long hours, seven days a week, and the business prospered right through the Depression,” said Colt.

He recalls chocolate candy was an item they carried and that Herbert Casassa, representing “Cynthia Sweets,” stopped in the store frequently.

When Herb Casassa bought the store, Al Casassa was only 13 but worked assembling pieces of the New York and Boston newspapers. That is also how longtime newspaper distribution manager Glyn Eastman got started.

“Hampton Center was the place to be,” said Casassa.

Depot Square back then was just a train station and the Depot Deli [now in 2005, it is “The Kitchen at Depot Square”] was the town’s post office.

“World War II was going on and gas rationing was in effect,” said Casassa. “Visitors from the south took the train to the beach and were dropped out right in front of Depot Square where they would take a bus to the beach.”

“At that time, there were two grocery stores along with a variety of other stores,” said Casassa. “There were no shopping centers. The biggest other business was Lamie’s Tavern and several gas stations that were referred to as gasoline alley.”

Casassa recalls business men were concerned in 1947 that the construction of Route 95 would make downtown Hampton a “dead spot.”

“Over the years that fear turned out to be a complete opposite,” said Casassa. “Now we are complaining of too much traffic in downtown Hampton.”

The store was remodeled several times over the years with the last time being in the 1980s.

While the soda fountain and lunch counter was popular, it was phased out in 1976 to make room for greeting cards and other knickknacks.

“It was a very popular place politically and socially back then,” said Casassa. “Whenever someone was running for governor or United States senator, they always made sure they made a visit to Colt’s.”

George W. Bush was one of them.

“George W. Bush was campaigning for his father at the time, who was running for president,” said Casassa. “I said, ‘You don’t look like George Bush’ and he said, ‘Well, I am.’ At that time nobody knew who he was.”

When the Hampton Playhouse was still operating on Winnacunnet Road, a few Hollywood stars also frequented the place including Blythe Danner and Rue McClanahan.

“(McClanahan) would come up every day to pick up the New York Times,” said Jean Power, manager of the store for 20 years.

In a news release, Casassa said the closing “reflects the nature of change in Hampton’s downtown based on, among other things, the increased traffic congestion on Route 1 and resulting changes in shopping habits.

The one thing he’s going to miss the most is going into the store in the morning, picking up the paper and chatting with a few of the regulars before going into the office.

“My grandmother who worked at the store until she was 85, called the store her ‘living room,'” said Casassa. “That what it’s like.”

Power said she’s going to miss the interaction with the customers.

“They’re all disappointed. They can’t believe it,” said Power. “They’re worried about where they will get their newspapers and cards.”

Just what will become of the location remains under discussion.

“Right now we are just concentrating on winding down the store,” said Casassa.