Rockland's downtown: Salty sophistication
Rockland — Rockland's Main Street brings together 176 businesses — big and small — including restaurants, offices, retail shops, spas and museums.
The city's downtown business community is walkable, diverse, creative and vibrant, according to community leaders.
"Truly a place blessed with richness of heritage and history," according to Lorain Francis, director of Rockland Main Street, Inc.
Whether savoring the smell of Brick's or Cafe Miranda's brick oven cooking, Home Kitchen Cafe's wafting aromas or admiring the oodles of unique merchandise that spills out onto the sidewalk, Rockland's downtown is alive with hometown spirit the locals are known for.
"We are authentic," said Francis. "We are who we are, and visitors love that."
Francis said unlike Camden's picturesque, New England feel, "we are a little grittier. We are proud of our working waterfront."
Longevity and collaboration are what give the area its "salty sophistication" — as denoted in the Rockland Main Street, Inc. slogan.
"The people are invested in the community," said Francis about the local businesses. "Our restaurants aren't tourist restaurants — they are here year-round."
She praised the Rockland businesses for their view on collaborating versus being competitive. "There's a lot of teamwork that goes into our Main Street atmosphere," said Francis.
Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegars at the east end has a tasting room that has become as popular as some of the local wineries. And at the south end, the newly opened Terra Optima Farm Market carries an eclectic array of locally-produced meats, vegetables and cheeses.
That, combined with all the flavor in between — including Rustica, Thorndike Creamery, Breakwater Vineyards, Park Street Grille, In Good Company, Rock Harbor Pub & Brewery, Waterworks, and the Brass Compass Cafe, to name a few — one gets the feeling of being transformed to a different time and place.
Clothing, books, jewelry, art supplies and antiques fill many a wall along Main Street. And pet lovers' favorite stop is the Loyal Biscuit Co. that offers a self-serve dog wash and produces its own line of tug toys.
"We do not have any sort of 'chain' in the area," said Francis, which lends itself to the feel of harbor/farm to table appeal. This is aided by the fact that Rockland Main Street, Inc. uses the National Trust for historic preservation model to keep downtown vibrant.
"We have logged over 16,897 volunteer hours in the community since 2009," stated Paul Benjamin, president of Rockland Main Street, Inc., on the website. "Investing in downtown Rockland benefits all of the residents in the community," said Benjamin.
"We support Healthy Maine Streets," said Francis. This program encourages all downtown restaurants to serve farm-to-table and harbor-to-table healthy choices.
Healthy Maine Streets is a new initiative of the Maine Downtown Center, funded by a Community Transformation Grant, and made possible with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Francis said in focus groups the Rockland area has been identified as being diverse. "You can be who you are and people are accepting," she said.
Another appeal of the Rockland area is its "walkability."
The Harbor Trail — that runs from Sandy Beach on the south end to The Apprenticeshop across from Home Kitchen Cafe — "has been in idea form for more than 20 years," said Francis.
Part of Harbor Trail is Glovers Passage which runs between Rheal Day Spa and 3 Crow, with benches and a map in the area near Lermond's Cove. The trail is projected to be expanded in the near future to wind around Tillson Avenue to Lime and Wharf Streets around Bicknell Mfg. Co., and Weeks Street by Journey's End Marina.
Francis said she had a couple from England who were sailing around the world comment to her that they chose to visit Rockland because of the walkability factor.
Talking about how excited she is to have the Center for Maine Contemporary Art coming to the area in 2015, Francis said "Rockland is going to be the art center of Maine."
"We already offer world class art with a Maine twist, and CMCA will give another draw," said Francis. CMCA will join the likes of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Gallery One, Jonathan Frost Gallery, Eric Frost Gallery, Art Space, and Caldbeck Gallery to name a few in Rockland.
The Strand Theatre — now in its 90th year and on the National Register of Historic Places — brings visitors in for a fun-filled evening on the town. The Strand saw extensive renovations and restorations in 2005, and just recently accommodated 300 viewers for the screening of the 1939 "The Wizard of Oz" in 35mm form.
"We're proud to be part of the 'new' Rockland but also to have been part of the 'old,'" said Theatre Manager Liz McLeod.
From Jay Sawyer's sphere of influence "Ridin' the Rails to Rockland" at Sandy Beach to Joe Auciello's granite sculpture "Genesis" in Ferry Terminal Park, it is evident that Rockland holds more in imagination than meets the eye.
Some of the longest running offerings include Black Parrot, The Grasshopper Shop (founded in 1975), The Reading Corner and Rock City. Another of the oldest prior to its closing this past summer was The Store, which had been in town for more than 30 years.
Other vacant storefronts are Lyn Snow Watercolors following the local artist's retirement, Uptown Studio which is relocating elsewhere in the city, and what use to be Gene Kenniston Associates at the corner of Limerock and Main Streets, which has been empty for quite some time.
As stores close, Francis said the city gets the chance to bring in new businesses to help keep the area fresh. For instance, this summer Rock Coast Sports closed after 17 years in downtown, giving Distinctive Tile the opportunity to come back to Main Street.
However, not unlike any other city, Rockland businesses see good times and bad.
Mark Czosnek of Rock Coast Sports cited several reasons for closing his doors — one being the same reason Lily Bistro closed — construction.
"We lost tens of thousands of dollars due to the three years of construction in front of the store," said Czosnek in an Oct. 22 email. Czosnek said he had applied for a pawnbroker's license but was denied.
"Rockland makes it very tough to do business in their city. The city seems to have no interest for downtown businesses," he said. "The big boats may dock in Rockland, but the people head to Camden just as soon as they unload," said Czosnek.
Bob Krajewski and Lynette Moser opened Lily Bistro in 2008, sourcing local ingredients fresh from the land and sea, and creating a French bistro experience for the locals.
In fall 2011, road work began in front of their 421 Main St. establishment. The water system project that was supposed to take two weeks — according to the restaurateurs — stretched into two months, forcing them to eventually make the decision to close the bistro and move back to Boston.
Earlier this month, the couple sought the help of kickstarter.com to gain backers to raise $50,000 for their newest venture — Community Oven in place of Brick's. However, after the pledging closed, the total of $8,543 fell short of the goal thus nullifying the project.
Some of the newest to join the Rockland Main Street offerings are Lobsterman's (formerly Lily Bistro), L&H Burgers, The Chowder House, Fog Bar & Cafe, and 3 Crow.
Beginning Nov. 1, Rockland will have a new night club — The Speakeasy — a newly renovated night club located below The Chowder House at the corner of Park and Main Streets.
The Speakeasy will add a different flare to Rockland's already bustling night life — with Time Out Pub, Myrtle Street Tavern, Navigator Lounge, and Trackside Station offering variety with a twist.
Whatever your slice of life may be, it would appear downtown Rockland has something for everyone.
Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
594-4401 ext. 125
Beth rejoined Courier Publications' news staff in February 2013. She previously worked at The Courier-Gazette from 1981 to 1990.
Her coverage area includes Warren, Union, Friendship, Waldoboro, Washington, and Thomaston and RSU40.
Beth has a passion for photography, and a degree from the University of Maine at Augusta, in affiliation with the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport.
Aside from photography, Beth enjoys running and walks along the waterfront, as well as other outdoor activities. She has a daughter, Claire, who is 13.
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