ROCKLAND — Most of us don’t give much thought to the value of that place around the corner where you can grab a gallon of milk, a six-pack of beer, fill up on gas and order a pizza to go.

In island communities, though, the local store—if there is one—plays a much more critical role, members of the Maine Islands Coalition said during a meeting on Friday, Nov. 8. MIC hosted a panel discussion at the offices of the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront, at which store owners and islanders shared what works and what challenges they face.

Among the themes that emerged are that island stores can succeed by:

There also was some consensus among the store owners that:

Representatives of Casco Bay island stores reported that large grocery stores like Hannaford, Shaw’s, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s accommodate islanders by shipping grocery orders on the Casco Bay Lines boat. So rather than compete, island stores serve, as Steve Corman, owner of Pearls Seaside Market and Café on Cliff Island said, as the local convenience store.

But Corman, who has owned the store for more than five years, has found niches that seem to be paying off: selling craft beer, quality imported cheese and—his specialty—bacon, lettuce, lobster and tomato sandwiches. These renowned BLLTs actually drew a couple from the mainland, he said, who got off the boat, marched up to his store to pick up their phoned-in order, and returned to the boat.

Later in the discussion, Corman said he also carries cheaper cheese so year-round residents who can’t afford the imported versions can still be served. That sort of balance is important, several store owners said, but tough to accomplish since most of the stores have limited floor space.

Making the store a place for people to gather also is an important element, several store owners said, both for community vitality and for business.

“We bought seven really comfortable chairs,” Corman said, and placed them outside the store and café for patrons and others to sit and enjoy the views.

Another store owner said island stores often become regular hang-outs for fishermen when the weather is bad, but joked that there is often more talking than buying.

Cindy Niquette, owner of the Swan’s Island store, said that island’s “dry” laws mean customers buying sandwiches or lobster can’t drink beer with their meals at the outside picnic tables, even if they bring their own.

Amy Farrell, owner of the Diamond Cove Store on Great Diamond Island in Casco Bay, talked about the need for reliable staff. The store is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends. Last summer, Farrell said, she hired a manager from the mainland and had to find on-island housing, which cut into profits.

Laurie Woods, who owns and operates the Boathouse Beverage and Variety store with her husband Scott on Long Island in Casco Bay, said after 14 years in business, she and her husband head south for a break in January and return in March. Like Farrell, she said having reliable staff is critical.

On Great Diamond, Farrell also works to have her store be an island hub, hosting a community dinner each Thursday night in the summer, drawing as many as 75 people.

“I actually have Little Diamonders who come across on the sand bar at low tide,” she said.

Isle au Haut’s store is owned cooperatively by 30 people and has been supported by funds raised at town meeting. Locals soured on the store some years ago when its primary supporter carried mostly high-end goods, said MIC member Rudi Graf.

“It was not very welcoming,” he said, “and poorly governed,” but a new board of directors took over in recent months and has worked hard to spruce it up and revive it.

A couple from Connecticut attended the panel discussion to learn more about island stores. The couple, who did not want to be named, is considering purchasing an existing island store. Asked by MIC members if hearing the many challenges dissuaded them, they said despite what they learned, they were on their way to an appointment with a banker.