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. Like many others, he arrived at Ellis Island with a few dollars in his pocket and a desire to work hard. Joseph Sr. planned to reside in Columbia, South America, but decided the weather was too warm and decided instead to visit extended family in Northern Maine .
In Northern Maine, Joseph Sr. quickly began peddling small items from a backpack to local farms and surrounding towns of Woodland, Stockholm and New Sweden. Soon, he saved enough money to purchase a horse and buggy to carry larger merchandise. Family members recall Joseph Sr. was often invited to spend the night with local farm families during the coldest parts of the harsh Maine winters.
In 1914, Joseph Sr. purchased his first store (across the street from the current Sleeper’s Caribou location). In 1922, he purchased a larger store directly across the street, and in 1931 built a new store. While many remember the “good old days” these were difficult times as well. Many area residents remember Joseph’s generosity during the great depression. Sleeper’s Caribou became a gathering spot known as “the flat”.
Several family members would help at Sleeper’s including Joseph’s sister in law, Geneva “Ginny” Wakem. Joseph’s young family members also learned 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.
In the late 1940’s, Joseph Sr. took daily English reading classes from local Caribou resident Agnes Beaulieu. While embracing his Lebanese heritage, he also wanted to become fluent in English.
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. Joe served in the Navy in European waters during the Korean war.
Joseph Sr. 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. 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 (carrying a unique mix of durable work clothes & 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). Joe and his wife Doris raised six children (George, Matt, Sandy, 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 of Caribou. [https://sleepersmarket.com/pages/our-history}
On July 4th weekend of 1983, George Sleeper and his wife Patti opened Sleepers Market in Sanford, ME. In 1986, George’s brother Brian joined the business working alongside George and in 1996 became co-owner. George and Patti’s son Aaron (along with his 3 sisters) grew up in the store playing in the aisles and learning everything possible about the business.
On August 31, 2012, Aaron and his wife Alix took over their own store in Limington, ME. Prior to moving to Maine, they both worked in New York City. Formerly Jongerdens Market, Sleepers Supermarket Limington officially opened to serve the Limington community with many great changes ahead. In fall of 2016, Aaron and Alix opened an Ace Hardware adjacent to the supermarket and in summer of 2018 converted the existing gas station to a brand new Citgo station.
Aaron and Alix continue to work hard to grow the business with the rest of the amazing “Sleepy Crew” employees. Their two children, Emma (4) & Liam (2), can also be seen playing in the aisles and learning everything they can about the grocery business.