There's no place like home
There are few finer places to grow up than Maine, I remember the first time I was cognizant of that as I stood on the bow of a sailboat entering Camden Harbor on my first visit home from college. A lot had transpired — including the attacks of Sept. 11 — and I had never been so grateful to be in Camden.
I still feel the same way about this place even though I am (technically) a grown-up. I live here because I love it, I came back because this area feels more like home then I can imagine any place ever being.
Change is a tricky thing and one that I think we all struggle with as individuals and communities. With the focus on new businesses and the excitement generated by a great new shop or restaurant opening its doors in our little part of the world it's easy to forget the cornerstone businesses that have kept their doors open in our community for decades. Many of these businesses have weathered not just an off season or two, but relocation, new landlords, increasing competition and now a persevering difficult economy.
As a girl I used to visit Gary and Bunni Anderson at Lily, Lupine and Fern. I was old enough to walk around Camden with my friends — I'm thinking maybe 10 — and loved to ogle the fresh flowers in Lily Lupine's cavernous Bay View Street shop. While I was just tall enough to see over the counter and definitely far too young to be a viable customer the Andersons always humored me. Gary would often send me off with a stem of flowers just on the verge of being past their prime but still beautiful, especially to a child.
Fast forward 20 years and Lily, Lupine and Fern is still a valued downtown Camden business. Gary and Bunni will be the first to admit that it hasn't been easy. The couple has moved their shop to no less than half-a-dozen locations in Camden since they opened in the late 1980s.
About a year ago I was in Lily Lupine, visiting the Andersons at their current Elm Street location to buy a gift. No sooner had Gary gussied up that $25 bottle of olive oil, he asked me if I'd like some flowers. Before I could answer he disappeared toward a cooler and came back moments later loaded up with blooms. I started to protest, even though I knew the flowers were his leftover stock I was humbled by this man giving me such a beautiful gift. Thankful that a stop at a local store could serve to so brighten my day. Protesting — as I've learned — is futile with Gary Anderson.
“Don't worry about it kid,” he said with a grin. Just like he always has.
As I walked to my car loaded up with something like seven dozen roses in various colors I couldn't help but smile. Maybe it's something about walking down the street with flowers but I felt so, so joyous for where I was at that exact moment.
When I was a kid growing up underfoot at The Waterfront we always ate at O'Neil's (now Cuzzy's) and Peter Ott's. There was a resounding sense of community between the businesses. I was taught later, as a teenage hostess, that if someone from another restaurant needed to borrow something — olives, butter, something they'd run out of mid service — that our policy was always to help our fellow businesses.
On Monday, July 2, I encountered Leni Gronros on Bayview Landing. I was heading to work and he was heading back to the restaurant he and his wife, Kim Graffam, opened in May. Leni told me he was coming from The Waterfront where he had just gone for advice about managing deck seating during the July 4 fireworks show. He told me he had received “great” advice about how to handle their inaugural Independence Day on Camden Harbor. I felt proud that the sense of community that prevailed when I was a girl still exists as The Waterfront ticks off a 34th summer and new restaurants, stores and specialty businesses set up shop in Camden.
As I write this one of Camden's oldest businesses, The Owl and Turtle Bookshop is preparing to return to Bay View Street after several years on the corner of Mechanic and Washington Streets and a change in ownership. The Owl and Turtle opened in 1970 and in name alone it offers familiarity and the reassurance that this little town is still a great place to do business.
It's quite a thing to walk the streets of Camden and see the diverse businesses that occupy our store fronts. As recently as 2008 I recall feeling a bit depressed about the state of things when I moved back why were so many store fronts sitting empty? It's amazing to observe the old mixed with the new and I applaud Camden's tenured businesses for keeping the faith, welcoming the new kids and rising to greet another busy Maine summer.