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Politics
Welcome to Primary Backstage, NHPR's ongoing series that takes you behind the scenes to the places and people who make New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary tick. Sure, the candidates themselves typically grab all the attention when campaign season rolls around. But there's a whole crowd of local folks who make the New Hampshire primary what it is -- to say nothing of the places that have served as backdrops for rallies, meet-and-greets, and spontaneous campaign moments over the years.Whether it's the owners of a Seacoast chowder shack that's played host to generations of candidates, a long-time campaign photographer whose portfolio spans three decades, or the mayor who's canvassed with future presidents, you'll meet them all Backstage.

N.H.'s Most Famous Campaign Stop Isn't What It Appears To Be

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Brady Carlson for NHPR
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Political memorabilia covers the walls at Robie's Country Store in Hooksett, N.H. The store, a required stop for presidential candidates for decades, is now closed but reopens when candidates visit.

Robie's Country Store in Hooksett has become an almost ritual stop on the New Hampshire presidential primary campaign trail — one of those places where anyone who is running is pretty much guaranteed to make an appearance. The business isn't what it once was, but presidential hopefuls keep showing up.

The store has stood on the bank of the Merrimack River, between Concord and Manchester, since 1887. When the candidates get there, most know what's expected.

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When Lindsey Graham came calling, he said it was "the place you have to stop to say you have really politicked in New Hampshire — everybody tells me that."

From its worn wood floors and tin ceiling, to the walls covered in decades worth of political memorabilia, Robie's looks like a stage set for old-fashioned retail politicking.

And when locals talk to reporters, they know the drill.

Old-timers, like Bob Collins, recall the Yankee charm of Lloyd Robie, the store's long-dead, fifth-generation proprietor.

The most famous Lloyd Robie story is from 1975. As Collins tells it:

"When Jimmy Carter come in here, they said 'This is Jimmy Carter.'"

"[Lloyd replied] 'Jimmy Who?' That was Lloyd."

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Credit Brady Carlson for NHPR
Lindsey Graham (left) and Bob Schroeder at Robie's Country Store in Hooksett, N.H.

  But don't actually try to buy milk and eggs here. The store closed for business in 2013.

These days, Robie's is usually only open when there's a presidential candidate in town.

Robie's reputation as a political stop has given Hooksett an outsized presence in the media every four years.

"I've sat and talked with BBC, with Japan television, Dutch Television, it goes on and on. It's been a lot of fun," said Bob Schroeder, who leads the local preservation group that now owns the store.

But Schroeder says it's been hard to find the right person to reopen it.

"The combination that we're looking for is somebody who will run a country store, have gifts and whatever along with the milk, butter and eggs, and keep it going."

Even with Robie's closed, the place is still doing a brisk trade in would-be presidents. Five Republican contenders have already dropped by this year, including Jeb Bush.

He was there to tape an interview with Fox News behind closed doors. And as quaintly New Hampshire as Robie's already is, someone — maybe from Fox, maybe from the Bush campaign, opinions differ — apparently tried to make it even more so.

Carolyn Schroeder, Bob's wife, said they wanted to have a chalk-written message in the backdrop.

"[They] said, 'well, why don't we put on that sign over there, why don't we put Robie's Country Store." Except that someone mispronounced "Robie's" (it's pronounced ROH-bee, not RAH-bee)

Whoever the offending party was, they may get a chance to make amends. As Jeb Bush left his Fox interview, he told onlookers he plans to return to Robie's, sometime soon. Hope he doesn't need any provisions while he's there.

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