Colt News: Closing the Door on Fond Memories

By Scott E. Kinney, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, November 11, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News.]

STAYING ON TO THE END --Colt News Store Manager Jean Power stands in familiar territory behind the store's counter. The store will be closing at the end of the year.
[Atlantic News Photo bye Scott E. Kinney / Courtesy Photos]

HAMPTON -- When Colt News Store closes its door for the final time on Saturday, Dec. 31, it will also bring a close to another chapter in town history.

The life of the store, 81 years in total, has seen the country involved in several conflicts, multiple presidencies and one walk on the moon.

To put it another way, the store was only six years shy of being in business during the last two times the Boston Red Sox have won the World Series.

H. Alfred Casassa, local attorney and current owner of the store, was a boy of 13 who lived on Dearborn Avenue when his parents and grandmother acquired the shop from David Colt in 1944. Colt had owned an operated the store for 20 years.

"I grew up with the business, which is why it was so difficult for me to close it," said Casassa.

When Casassa's grandmother Hazel Simonds and parents Herbert and Olga Casassa bought the store the country was involved in the "war to end all wars." As a result, gas was rationed and Casassa recalls visitors arriving at the train station across from the store before catching a bus or a taxi to the beach. Those visitors created what Casassa called "a bustling downtown business.

Page 606, Randall's "History of Hampton, 1888-1988": Colt's News Store, 1930s.
{Photo not in original article}
[Courtesy Glyn Eastman.]

"At that time Colt News Store was the only place you could buy a newspaper in this town," he said.

The wholesale newspaper side of the business employed several young boys, age 10 and up, to hawk the papers from Boston, New York, Seabrook and Hampton. Casassa was among them until he was old enough to drive. Over the years four generations have been involved in the store's operation, including Casassa's children, Robert, Ann and Christine.

Casassa's most vivid memory of the store were the players from the Hampton Playhouse, who used to hang out at the store's lunch counter complete with soda fountain.

During that time, Casassa said he would see actors and actresses on the rise as well as some on the decline of their careers.

Among them were Blythe Danner, mother of Gwyneth Paltrow, who starred most recently in "Meet the Fockers", and Golden Girl Rue McClanahan.

"I can remember many people who later became stars," said Casassa.

Colt News Store in 1953.

Colt News Store has also been host to several political movers and shakers looking to press the flesh with the locals. Nelson Rockefeller, presidential hopeful Harold Stassen (who made runs at presidential candidacy nine times from 1948 to 1992), and George W. Bush have all graced the doorway of the little shop.

Casassa said, among other things, increased traffic has affected shopping habits in the downtown area. He related a story of business owners in downtown during 1948. At that time local proprietors were up in arms over the construction of the New Hampshire turnpike (aka Route 95), fearing the negative effect it would have on their businesses. The business owners went so far as to protest the road's construction.

"Now, Route 1 is so congested that it's a detriment to businesses in downtown Hampton," he said.

Jean Power, store manager for 20 years, said she has seen the store transform from a drug-type store to that of a gift shop. The friendships she has made while working for Colt News are the most memorable part of her years with the store.

"It's the everyday exchange between people and what's going on in their lives," she said, "and Mr. Casassa has been very nice to work for."

Colt News Store in 1972.

Power said she is uncertain what she will do when the store closes, but she will keep herself busy.

"I'll do something," said Power. "I'm not the type to sit around and just clean house."

Casassa, who owns the building that is home to both Colt News Store and his law firm, Casassa and Ryan, said he hasn't decided what will become of the store once it is closed.

"That's step two," he said. "Right now, I'm working on step one."