WELLFLEET — Among the colorful shops in Wellfleet’s commercial center, one particularly ramshackle building stands out. Makeshift curtains unsuccessfully try to screen what’s inside, but through the dingy windows one can spot stacks of dusty furniture and a jumble of odds and ends.
The place looks abandoned, and, according to neighboring business owners, it has been shuttered for some 20 years.
Madeline Manchuk of South Yarmouth has owned the building since 1968, when she and her late husband, Robert, bought it. At the time, it was a thriving business whose name, the News Dealer, still adorns the façade in wooden lettering. It was an integral part of Wellfleet’s center where residents and vacationers picked up their daily newspapers, stationery, and sundries, including boogie boards.
Jeanie Bessette, owner of Ragg Time Ltd., a clothing shop a few doors away, said the News Dealer, at 301 Main St., has been closed for at least 20 of the 40 years she has operated downtown. “There has been a lot of interest in leasing or buying the building, but the owner isn’t interested,” Bessette said.
Executive session minutes, now public, reveal that in 2018 town officials considered buying the property or taking it by eminent domain to use it for town offices. According to the minutes, Dan Hoort, the town administrator at the time, reported that he was never able to connect with Manchuk. The select board told Hoort to check with legal counsel regarding the town’s options. But that’s where discussion of the town’s involvement stops.
Kathleen Bacon, who was a select board member during the 2018 discussions, told the Independent by email that the building “remains a detriment, not only to the community at large but to viable, well-kept businesses along Wellfleet’s Main Street.” She added that the building lacks running water and “the septic is nonfunctioning.”
The store occupies a Dutch Colonial building that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the historic district in the town’s center. It was built in 1925, when Wellfleet’s population stood at 786 and the local maritime economy was bolstered by burgeoning tourism. Main Street was then a well-established commercial area, with dry goods and grocery stores, ice cream shops, and the post office.
William F. Rose, whose parents were both born in the Azores, purchased the vacant lot at 301 Main St. in the 1920s with his sister Mary and built a newspaper store there, according to the inventory of historic assets kept by the Mass. Historical Commission.
After Rose’s death in 1959, the property was purchased by Wellfleet native Clifford Delory and his wife, Gloria, who continued to run the store.
Karen Murphy, the current town collector and the Delorys’ granddaughter, recalled the store in the 1960s, when print newspapers were in their heyday. “There were always huge stacks of newspapers, especially in the summer,” Murphy said. The Delorys also carried all kinds of items tourists might need and had a large case filled with ice cream treats.
Every Memorial Day, the highway was temporarily closed so that local members of the military, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts could march to all the local cemeteries. “My grandfather would pass out tickets to the Scouts for free popsicles,” Murphy said.
Clifford Delory held many jobs in Wellfleet, from police officer to shellfisherman. He also cut ice from Long Pond and delivered it in blocks to local residents. After running the News Dealer for a decade, Murphy said, Delory was ready to do some renovations. Frustrated when the town denied him the necessary permits, however, he sold the store and his house in 1968 and moved to Eastham, according to Murphy, where he lived until his death at 100 in 2008.
Madeline and Robert Manchuk were the buyers, according to the assessor’s records. Robert died in 1997, but Madeline continues to own the property. It is unclear whether the Manchuks operated the store or simply became its landlords.
Manchuk did not respond to a voicemail or a message left with her son, Michael. When a reporter approached her at her home, Manchuk said a hurried goodbye and drove away. She has not responded to a letter left on her door with questions about the property.
The town’s files contain scant information on the News Dealer but indicate problems with the building dating back to 1997. That July, the fire dept. refused to sign off on a business license for the property. “I found that you have not even made an attempt to repair or clean up substantial fire and life hazards in the second story, basement and stairways, that I noted in my inspection last year,” wrote fire Capt. Alan Hight.
Victor Staley, the building inspector, sent Manchuk his own letter that same month, saying the fire alarm system at the apartment building at 285 Main, which is also owned by Manchuk, was disabled. He ordered that the system be fixed immediately.
Staley’s letter also warned there could be “repercussions” for operating the news store for a year without a business license. No follow-up records were in the file.
“I sent another letter in 1999, saying the retaining wall was failing and could collapse at any time,” said Staley last week. “They were told to fix it or remove it.”
Yvonne Barocas, who owned Abiyoyo, the town’s toy store, for 20 years, said the News Dealer had been “loved by many.” She and her husband, Mo, had toured the building when it was still in reasonable condition, she said. “It was an incredible shop, running long and deep to the back and with a full, usable walkout basement,” Barocas said. There was also a rental apartment upstairs.
“Over the years, we watched it being used less and less and falling into serious disrepair, to the point that it now feels dangerous,” Barocas said. “It has been very sad to watch this wonderful building in the center of town crumble before our very eyes.”
By 2001, the news store appears to have stopped operating. Robert Dalton leased 301 Main in 2001 for his business, Yak Arts, but stayed only a couple of years.
“It was a great location, but there was no water in the building,” Dalton said in a phone interview. “There was also no bathroom. I had to go across the street to the town hall. Now, with the zoning laws, it probably couldn’t even open.”
He characterized Manchuk as “very eccentric.”
“I think I was the last tenant there,” he said. Dalton is now in Orleans.
The large front window has been occupied at times, however, serving as the box office for the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater in the 1990s, then as a sort of billboard space; last year it hosted a display for Jude Ahern’s select board candidacy.
Local businessman Robert “Buddy” Paine confirmed he was among those who looked into purchasing the building, but Manchuk wasn’t interested in selling it.
There had been a lien put on the property by the town for unpaid taxes, according to Kathleen Bacon. But Manchuk recently paid the bill, “so the town’s hands are tied as to a taking,” Bacon said. Bacon said she also noted some minor exterior repairs — patching a hole in the roof and replacing a broken window — had been made in early winter.
Bacon said she guesses the property will remain vacant until the town installs a sewer line in the center. Then, she said, the property “will be priceless.”