A Life: George H. Goodhue Jr.

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    George Goodhue Jr. in a late-1980s photograph. Goodhue, who grew up in Lebanon, N.H., was an entrepreneur and gambler. "If it was going to make money, he would do it," said his daughter. (Family photograph) Family photograph

  • George's Country Store was one of the early stores on the Route 12A strip, opening in 1975. Owner George Goodhue Jr.'s establishment was on property that is the current location of Lebanon Pet and Aquarium Center. (Family photograph

  • George Goodhue Jr. with his Cadillac, “The Four Aces,” around 1980 that he drove in demolition derbies at the Enfield Fair. (Family photograph) Family photographs

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2021 9:00:18 PM
Modified: 7/18/2021 9:00:20 PM

LEBANON — Before there was a string of fast-food franchises and big-box stores, back when Route 12A in West Lebanon was still a road cutting through the cornfields, there was George’s Country Store.

Built in the 1970s and operated by its namesake, George Goodhue Jr., the store had a rustic pine board exterior that evoked an Old West saloon.

A gambler, card shark and serial entrepreneur, Goodhue later developed Glen Road Plaza — one of the first strip malls in the area — rightfully giving him claim, in the words of his daughter, to being “one of the founding fathers” of the Route 12A shopping corridor in West Lebanon.

“If it was going to make money, he would do it,” daughter Fawn Rand, of Tilton, N.H., said.

George Goodhue Jr., who grew up in Lebanon and graduated in 1956 from Lebanon High School, died May 21 at Genesis HealthCare in Lebanon, where he had been taken following a fall in his home at Quail Hollow in West Lebanon.

Goodhue, who was 83, had been in declining health for several years.

By all accounts Goodhue did make money in a succession of business ventures. But, as an inveterate gambler who rarely passed up a wager — Goodhue boasted once of beating Kenny Rogers at cards in Las Vegas — he also lost money by overextending himself and in business schemes that failed to pan out.

The financial ups-and-downs were simply part of the ride in the “wheeler dealer” days of West Lebanon, said his son, George Goodhue III, of Dover, N.H.

It was an era when developers were grabbing up old farms as the commercial center of the Upper Valley migrated north to Lebanon from Claremont.

“He was a character in a part of the town that is now forgotten,” said George Goodhue III of his father.

Although he traveled to Europe and loved to hit the casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, Goodhue spent most of his life in Lebanon. His father, George “Frenchy” Goodhue, worked for 30 years at the former Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. plant in Windsor before becoming a barber in Lebanon.

Following a stint in the Army, Goodhue worked as a lumberman felling trees in northern New Hampshire — family lore has it he learned how to shave with an ax — and as a driver and serviceman for Canteen Vending Services in Massachusetts.

Returning to the Upper Valley in 1975, Goodhue bought property on Route 12A where the Lebanon Pet and Aquarium Center is now located and built George’s Country Store, known for its custom-ordered grinders, which were a lunchtime favorite, and cases of beer stacked floor to ceiling.

And long before the lottery became a staple of convenience stores, Goodhue liked to run his own game of chance when customers approached the check-out counter with a six-pack or case.

“You want to flip for it? Double or nothing!” Goodhue would wager to the customer, according to family members and friends.

“If they won he gave it to them. If they lost they paid double,” recalled Darren Carter, who owns West Lebanon towing company Midnight Recovery Auto Services and knew Goodhue as a teenager when his mother lived with him in a house in the location now occupied by Glen Road Plaza.

Goodhue added adjacent plots to the store and ran a Chinese restaurant, named The Pagoda, where cooks lived above the restaurant.

When the general store closed, he opened a firearms store named The Gungslinger in the same spot. He dubbed the cluster of buildings “Pine Plaza.”

“They turned the beer cooler into gun cases,” recalled Tim Henderson, of Wilder, a contractor who helped build Glen Road Plaza.

Goodhue’s father lived in a house at the corner of Route 12A and Glen Road and Goodhue built commercial offices and stores around the house in what became Glen Road Plaza.

Goodhue had a simple business philosophy, according to Henderson.

“It was anything you can make a fast buck on,” Henderson said.

That included the criminal activity of others. In the late 1980s, Goodhue opened a bail bonds agency out of an office at Glen Road Plaza.

“George and my mother would go to the jails and make the deals with criminals to get them out,” said Carter, who said he was sometimes dispatched to help pick up wayward clients who had skipped bail.

George Goodhue III said generosity was one of his father’s enduring qualities. He recalled a man who suffered from a disfiguring facial condition but had remarkable talent as an artist. His father hired the man to paint a four-panel mural of the four seasons on the exterior of one of the buildings at Glen Road Plaza, where they are still visible today.

“You could be a complete derelict off the street and my father would give you a job on his construction crew,” George Goodhue III said. “He would give anybody a second and third shot.”

In the 1990s, Goodhue went to “auctioneer’s school” and obtained his auctioneer’s license. He opened Goodhue Auction Services in Enfield, operating out of the basement of one of the buildings of the Enfield Shaker Museum, and scoured Upper Valley estates for furnishings and other items to auction.

“He had a hot dog steamer there. He loved steamed hot dogs. When he did an auction, he always had one of those hot dogs in his hand,” Carter recalled.

There were frequent trips to all-night poker games at Foxwoods in Connecticut, as well as travel to Spain and Germany. Rand said he once won $100,000 at a game in Las Vegas.

“He was a risk-taker,” she said.

The risk-taking sometime extended to his physical safety, relatives said.

Goodhue had a beater, which he named “The Four Aces,” that he drove in collision derbies at the Enfield Fair, said George Goodhue III.

“They’d drive around and smash cars up and the last one with his motor running won,” said Rand, who remembers her father placing second in one contest. He had the car parked outside George’s Country Store for people to see as they drove past on Route 12A.

He parlayed his love of gambling into a business opportunity when he signed on to become a “junket rep” for Donald Trump’s casinos in Atlantic City.

“He would gather up people, put them on a plane at the Lebanon airport, and fly them down to Atlantic City and gamble for the weekend,” said Carter.

But Goodhue wasn’t in tune with popular culture.

“Dad would get all these tickets to concerts from the Trump people. I remember he once came home with a ticket to Elton John (and said), ‘Who’s he?’” recalled his son.

Goodhue was not afraid of a little subterfuge to get around Lebanon’s zoning authorities if he thought the situation warranted, said George Goodhue III.

His son remembers the time the city was telling him he had to replace the plantings at Glen Road Plaza because the bushes had died and leaves had all turned brown.

“He said, “I’m not going to go out and buy new plants. So he told me to go to the store and get some green paint and spray paint the brown leaves green’,” said George Goodhue III.

” ‘Do it at 3 a.m., and make sure no cars are around,’ ” the son recalled his father advising.

“For a good year and a half people didn’t realize those plants were all dead and just spray painted,” George Goodhue III said.

In 1993, when the real estate market fell into recession and tenants fell behind in the rent, Goodhue wasn’t able to keep current on his $1.3 million mortgage nor his property taxes. Glen Road Plaza was auctioned off for $825,000.

“That was hard on him,” said his son George Goodhue III.

In later years, Goodhue would ask not to be driven past Glen Road Plaza because the memory was too painful.

“He was emotional about it,” his son said.

In 1999, Goodhue moved into an apartment at Quail Hollow and was among the first residents in the retirement community. It was there, in the mailbox room six-and-a-half years ago, that he met Arlene Caouette, who herself had recently moved into Quail Hollow.

After the first date, Caouette said she was smitten. They soon moved into adjoining units.

“He was the most interesting man I had ever met. I was married twice before and he outweighed them both,” said Caouette, who calls Goodhue “the love of my life.”

She admired his practical approach to a life that had been filled of experiences.

“He was very good to me and a great one for telling me ‘If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. Don’t please somebody else. Please yourself,’ ” Caouettee recalled.

“George had his hand in just about everything,” Caouette marveled. “We’d start talking about something and he’d say, ‘Oh, I did that.’ ”

Following a stroke three years ago, Caouette said, Goodhue became weaker and harder to understand when he spoke. She became his caretaker until she was no longer able to after he suffered his fall.

George Goodhue’s life was one of big wins and big losses, but he had no regrets, according to friends and family.

Goodhue “made a lot of money and he lost a lot of money,” said Carter. “But I think he had a real good time in between doing it.”

That sounds just like her father, Fawn Rand said.

“My father always told me, ‘When I pass away don’t be upset because I did everything I wanted,’ ” she said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

Valley News

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