Sunday, December 8, 2013
When Brandon Berry steps into the boxing ring Thursday, he won’t just be fighting for the night’s light welterweight title.
Brandon Berry is turning to a professional boxing career in the hope that it will help him save his family's store in West Forks.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
Berry stocks shelves with wine and other assortments of beverages during his afternoon shift at the family's general store in West Forks. He will later pack his gym bag and drive two and a half hours to Stockton Springs for two hours of intense training at Wyman's Boxing Club.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
12TH ANNUAL FIGHT TO EDUCATE PRO-AM BOXING EVENT
Thursday, Sept. 12
Verizon Wireless Center, Manchester, N.H.
Silent auction starts at 5:30 p.m.; boxing begins at 8 p.m. Event raises money for at-risk and disadvantaged children
Six-fight card: three amateur, three professional
The event is headlined by two welterweight matches:
Danny "Bhoy" O'Connor, of Framingham, Mass., will fight Raul Tover, Jr., of McAllen, Texas
Chris Gilbert, of Windsor, Vt., will fight Anthony Chase, of Providence, R.I.
Brandon Berry, of West Forks, will fight Jesus Cintron, of Springfield, Mass.
He’ll be fighting for his family’s store, in danger of failing after three generations.
He’ll be fighting for West Forks Plantation, a northern Somerset County community of about 50, reeling from the stagnant economy of the last several years.
Berry, who’s won the two professional fights he’s been in, is part of the professional card of the Fight to Educate, a six-fight event Thursday in Manchester, N.H.’s Verizon Wireless Arena.
If the 25-year-old can win enough fights, he can earn enough money to prop up the store. The store props up the community, and the community props up Berry. It’s a cycle of struggle, faith, community and love.
That’s what Berry is fighting for.
The odds against him are enormous, but the people of West Forks have put their money and support behind him.
They say he can hit harder than a recession.
They need him to.
Berry, and his family’s store, are a critical part of the area’s effort to attract tourists. Everyone agrees that without tourists, it wouldn’t take long for the town — in an area that’s a mecca for snowmobilers, ATV riders, fishermen, hunters and white-water rafters — to disappear.
Outside Maine, Berry is unknown. But in his own small corner of the world, he’s a big name.
Berry’s General Store is the area’s sole source of bullets, beer, milk, mousetraps, cigarettes, shoelaces, groceries, gasoline and gossip. Berry knows family general stores are going out of style, but he’s not ready to give up on his family’s.
Inside the store, locals lounge in lawn chairs that are ostensibly for sale. Above their heads, dozens of deer antlers dangle from the ceiling and the walls are lined with hunting trophies. In one corner, a clothes rack holds a bunch of empty hangers and a handful of moose antlers with price tags on them.
Local workmen post their business cards on the wall — Foley’s Wood Floors, Adam Baker Well Drilling, Hamilton Sandblasting, Maysic Construction.
As people buy supplies, they circulate cards for those who are ill, announce community dinners, get gas and organize benefits.
Forest Hopkins, who stopped in recently to pick up a drink, is from Bingham, 25 miles down U.S. Route 201. But he’s familiar with Berry.
“Oh, the boxer,” he said. “I guess he’s been winning. Down in Bingham, we all know about that, down that way.”
Family business on the mat
Two weeks before the big fight, Berry’s father, Gordon, bearded and wearing a hunting cap, stood behind the store in a rough grassy area littered with pallets, broken freezers, propane tanks and shelving units — the store’s castoffs.
Gordon Berry is in his own fight, against the Great Recession, which began pummeling his store, and much of Maine’s tourism industry, in 2007.
“Back-to-back, three or four years of bad business, it’s put us right down on the floor,” he said.
But as he hitched a trailer to his truck, Berry said he wouldn’t give up quietly.
“I’m going down to get wood so I can bundle it up, sell it to the rafting companies,” he said. “I mow lawns, plow snow. You have to do three, four jobs just to keep things on an even keel.”
He works between 60 and 80 hours a week, coming in at 4 a.m. most days to make breakfast sandwiches. But it’s not enough. He’s cut wood on his land and sold it to keep the business solvent. In some cases, he’s sold the land itself.
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