One Man’s Dream Begins 100 Years of Family Business
On an early morning in 1910, Joseph Sleeper Sr. boarded a boat in Lebanon and began his journey to the United States. He left behind the comfort of his family and traveled with few possessions in search of a better life in the United States. Like many others, he arrived at Ellis Island with a few dollars in his pocket and a desire to work hard. Joseph planned to reside in Columbia South America, but soon after arriving in Columbia he found the weather to warm and decided to visit some extended family in Northern Maine. Upon his arrival in Northern Maine, Joseph quickly began peddling small items with a backpack to local farms and surrounding towns of Woodland, Stockholm and New Sweden. Soon after, Joseph saved enough money to purchase a horse and buggy and began to carry larger merchandise. Family members recall Joseph was often invited to spend the nights with local farm families during the coldest parts of the harsh Northern Maine winters. In 1914, Joseph purchased a small store across the street from the current Sleeper’s location. In 1922, Joseph purchased a larger store directly across the street. While many remember the “good old days” these were difficult times as well. Despite the challenges, Mr Sleeper decided to build a new store in 1931. Many area residents remember Joseph’s generosity during the great depression. Sleeper’s became a gathering spot on the area of Caribou known as “the flat”. Several family members would help at Sleeper’s including Joseph’s sister in law, Geneva “Ginny” Wakem. Soon, Joseph’s young family members were also found learning the family business. Joseph and his wife Alma raised seven children Mitchell, Enid, Norma and Natalie (twin daughters) Joseph Jr. , Nelson (Ike) and Dottie. All were active in the store. Joseph embraced his Lebanese heritage but also wanted to learn to be fluent in English speaking and reading. In the late 1940’s, Joseph took daily English reading classes from local resident Agnes Beaulieu. In 1957, Joseph jr. and Nelson (Ike) took over the family business after returning from service in the United States military. Ike was a Bronze Star recipient for his service in Korea, while Joe served in the Navy in European waters during the Korean war. Joseph passed away at the age of 67 in 1959. Joe and Ike grew the store rapidly with fourteen expansions and several remodels. Ike and Joe recall that Sleeper’s was the first store in Caribou to purchase a frozen food display case. Prior to that, Ice cream and other frozen foods were not typically sold during the winter months. From the beginning, Sleeper’s was known for groceries and dry goods. While Ike focused on expanding the grocery section, Joe continued to expand the clothing department caring a unique to the are mix of durable work clothes, as well as casual wear. Sleeper’s clothing shop catered to local people from all over Northern Aroostook, the growing Air Force Base population, and shoppers from nearby New Brunswick Canada. Ike and his wife Jeanne raised five children (Mark, Doug, Cheryl, David and Andrea) and Joe and his wife Doris raised 6 children (George, Matt, Dandy, Joseph II , Brian and Neal). All eleven of the second generation grew up working in the family business. In 1989, Mark, Joseph II and David purchased Sleeper’s. Mark and his wife Tina have three grown children (Katherine, Christian and Olivia) , Joseph II and his wife Tanya have two children (Chloe and Isabella) while David and his wife Shannon have three grown children (Jared, Meredith and Nicholas). While family have been integral to the success of Sleeper’s, many long time employees have been equally important. Many of these employees spent over 20 years at Sleeper’s including Reggy Antoine, Larry Chamberlain, Cecile Ruest, Ron Ruest, Sonny Tracy, Linda Ouellette, Doris and Wilmer Tardie, Richard Lapointe, Craig Jackson. The hard work and dedication of these past and current employees was instrumental to the success of Sleeper’s. Photos of many of Sleeper’s past employees still hang in the office as a daily reminder of how many people have made a difference in Sleeper’s store and how important their roles were. Sleeper’s also has been the first work experience to countless high school students for generations in Caribou. As Sleeper’s celebrates 100 years in Caribou it is a great opportunity to thank all of those who have worked at the store as well as the customers from near and far who have made Sleeper’s what it is today!