ELLSWORTH, Maine — Not way back, the view of Metropolis Corridor from the intersection of Franklin and Primary streets was framed by empty downtown storefronts, the locked doorways and darkish home windows an indication of the decline of small-town basic merchandise retail shops throughout the nation.
Right now, Ellsworth’s downtown has managed to resume itself as a hub of exercise, regardless of the occasional lingering empty storefront. However as an alternative of drawing individuals in with mass-produced furnishings, garments or stationery, it’s luring them in with specialty meals, regionally brewed beer, uncommon merchandise, handcrafted gadgets made within the space and leisure.
“There’s just this resurgence. Ellsworth is kind of going through a renaissance,” Cara Romano, head of the downtown advertising group Coronary heart of Ellsworth, stated earlier this month as she folded tissue paper into present bins at KoT, her do-it-yourself crafts and jewellery retailer on State Road. “[Downtown] is more about an experience than it is about things.”
The resurgence follows a development of small-city Maine downtowns coming again — not because the buying facilities of the mid-20th century, however as cultural facilities that attraction to clients in search of one thing they will’t discover anyplace else.
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In Ellsworth, a number of former downtown mainstays that bought on a regular basis “things” have thrown within the towel, particularly as nationwide retail chains have moved to Ellsworth and on-line retailers have swallowed up a rising portion of day-to-day buying.
The H.C. Austin furnishings retailer shut down in 2009. The native Grasshopper Store, which was owned by members of the identical household that also runs Grasshopper outlets in Rockland and Searsport, closed in 2015. J&B Atlantic, which bought furnishings and different residence decor in an area previously occupied by J.J. Newberry — a nationwide “five-and-dime” retail chain that folded within the 1990s — adopted go well with in 2016.
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Some retail outlets, lots of them promoting specialty gadgets, proceed to do enterprise downtown, however the space has seen probably the most pronounced progress in meals and beverage choices. A few of these additions to downtown embrace Morton’s Moo selfmade ice cream parlor, The Maine Grind espresso store (now Flexit Cafe), burrito store 86 This, Airline Brewing’s English-style pub, Finn’s Irish pub, and Indian and Sri Lankan restaurant Serendib.
The town through the years has made some extent of sustaining and enhancing its downtown infrastructure, stated David Cole, Ellsworth’s metropolis supervisor. The town has redeveloped Knowlton Park, together with the addition of a summer time splash pad, and renovated the previous Moore Elementary Faculty on State Road into a group middle. It’s additionally made enhancements to the town marina and waterfront park on Water Road. Having leisure choices and occasions downtown — which is also house to authorities and professional workplaces and the 80-year-old nonprofit Grand Auditorium theater — helps maintain foot visitors alongside Important Road, Cole stated.
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“It’s much more than just shopping,” he stated. “It’s experiential, it’s cultural, it’s entertainment. It’s where people gather. Downtowns are coming back, but not as retail centers per se. It was general merchandising 40 years ago.”
‘The whole engine is really humming’
That metropolis involvement in sustaining and selling its Essential Road issues, stated Anne Ball, who oversees the Maine Downtown Middle program for the Maine Improvement Middle. Belfast, Gardiner, Rockland, Augusta, Biddeford and Skowhegan are amongst different Maine municipalities which have had success in reviving their downtowns by actively fostering relationships with downtown enterprise teams, she stated.
“These places are becoming destinations,” Ball stated. “The whole engine is really humming in Ellsworth.”
Historic preservation, walkability and frequent occasions usually are essential to any vibrant downtown, she stated, although the precise method often varies barely from one city to the subsequent. Having an lively social media presence helps, too, as does cooperation amongst companies.
“If a community is focused on its downtown, people will want to come downtown,” she stated.
Regardless of modifications within the retail panorama, Ellsworth’s downtown is benefiting from the town’s already-strong place as a regional service middle, based on metropolis officers. The town, which has an estimated inhabitants of almost eight,000 individuals, ranked first statewide in taxable retail gross sales per capita at $45,660 in 2015, the newest yr for which statistics can be found, they stated. Estimated common every day visitors counts over the previous yr ranged from round 12,000 automobiles per day in January to roughly twice that quantity at mid-summer.
And a rising inhabitants and rental housing market translate into extra potential downtown enterprise clients, they added. The anticipated opening of The Jackson Laboratory’s new mouse vivarium close to Excessive Road, which is predicted to deliver 350 jobs to the town, might contribute to the potential buyer pool.
In interviews, metropolis officers and native retailers pointed to some particular native developments prior to now decade or so — and a handful of artistic danger takers — that helped pave the best way for the downtown’s transformation.
The opening of the Courthouse Gallery of artwork on Bridge Hill and the conversion of the previous Masonic Lodge into The Maine Grind and small retail outlets for native artisans, each of which occurred in 2006, are amongst them.
‘It just fits us’
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A number of individuals additionally particularly cited Linda and Ken Perrin’s choice in 2005 to purchase an empty warehouse constructing on Pine Road, two blocks from Important Road, and to transform it into a brand new glass-blowing studio for his or her enterprise, Atlantic Artwork Glass. The Perrins had been understanding of a small storage in Hulls Cove on Mount Desert Island and have been aching for more room in a location the place they might draw individuals in. With the town’s encouragement, the Perrins appeared on the three,500-square-foot constructing and shortly noticed the attraction of each the constructing and the neighborhood.
On the time, Linda Perrin stated they needed to be in a spot that’s rising culturally, the place they might stroll to The Grand for films or performs, to native eating places and to close by outlets for espresso and a loaf of freshly baked bread.
“I think it’s a quiet thing that’s happening in Ellsworth,” Perrin stated in 2005. “It’s a beautiful building in a great spot. It just fits us.”
This previous week, Perrin added that a huge a part of what made Ellsworth interesting, and nonetheless does, is its affordability — some extent echoed by Romano, who together with her husband purchased the State Road constructing the place KoT lately opened.
They every stated they appeared to Ellsworth as a result of they might not afford to spend money on, and even lease, business property on Mount Desert Island. Residential property values in lots of surrounding cities are additionally excessive, making the price of renting an condominium or paying a mortgage in these locations arduous sufficient as it’s.
“I think right now things [downtown] are really affordable for people who are starting out or people that are wanting to buy something,” stated Romano, who lives in Bar Harbor. “My husband and I chose to invest here rather than on [MDI]. We can’t afford commercial property on the island.”
Greater than a dozen years after making the transfer, Perrin stated a lot of what she and her partner hoped for in Ellsworth has come true. For one, she stated, they now have a large-enough native buyer base that they not should journey to commerce exhibits across the nation to pay their payments.
She credited Wealthy and Cary Hanson, who from 2002 by way of 2014 owned and operated the much-lauded however now-defunct Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro on Principal Road, with demonstrating that the town’s downtown might help a regionally conceived, artistic, artisanal enterprise. The recognition of Cleonice gave the Perrins confidence that they might use the warehouse for his or her studio but in addition to attract individuals to community-oriented, collaborative artwork workshops hosted on website, she stated.
That inspiration continued to unfold partially by means of SevenArts, a small gallery that opened in 2008 within the Maine Grind constructing, the place the Perrins and another space craftspeople promote their wares. When the gallery opened, Perrin stated, it caught the attention of different artists within the space.
“In my community of artisans, it was getting a lot of notice,” she stated. “People said, ‘If they can do that, maybe I can do something as well.’”
Fogtown Brewing, a craft brewery downstairs from the Perrins’ studio that opened a yr in the past, is one other instance of how the town’s artistic spark has continued to develop. Founders Jon Stein and Ian Heyse have been on the lookout for a big-enough area the place they might make beer, host stay music and run a year-round retail enterprise.
Stein stated that once they have been on the lookout for a spot to open, they have been drawn to Ellsworth’s “genuine small-town feel” and its proximity to Acadia Nationwide Park and the coast. Additionally they like that Ellsworth is much less affected by the peaks and valleys of the world’s vacationer season than many different surrounding cities.
In Ellsworth, “we saw both an existing, vibrant year-round community and the need for more community development with a focus on music, art and a gathering space for conversation,” he stated. “Once we decided on locating in Ellsworth, our only interest was in being downtown.”
They observed the primary flooring of the Perrins’ constructing was unoccupied, and approached the couple about leasing it. The Perrins noticed it as an ideal match for his or her constructing and the group.
“Over 10 years or so, we’ve seen more younger people looking for how they’re going to make their own way,” Linda Perrin stated. “They’ve looked at the examples around them and now they are giving it their best shot [in downtown Ellsworth]. It adds momentum for everybody, I think.”