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A Tale of Two Downtowns

August 3, 2011
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Bangor & Ellsworth's downtown boom

BANGOR - We've all been privileged to witness the revitalization of downtown Bangor over the past few years. The creative community has been growing by leaps and bounds and there are a number of wonderful new businesses that have opened up downtown, resulting in a happily thriving part of town.

Don't get me wrong; there were already tons of great places downtown. Places like Paddy Murphy's and Giacomo's, Bagel Central and Ipanema, Bella Luna, Epic Sports and the Discovery Museum - all of these places have become vital parts of the downtown foundation.

But there are a whole lot of new businesses downtown as well. Here are just a few:

The Rock and Art Shop

First of all, there's something special about this store. Tony, Annette and Amanda Sohns recently opened their second location in the former Lippincott Books space on Central Street (their original location is located on the outer end of the Bangor Road in Ellsworth). It is exactly what it advertises; it's a shop filled with art and rocks, a wonderful balance between the wonders that nature creates and the wonders we create ourselves.

"Downtown was just coming alive," said Annette Sohns upon being asked about the new location. "We were getting a lot of vacationers at the Ellsworth store; we wanted a spot more accessible to locals. [And we] felt that we needed more arts downtown."

The Rock and Art Shop is easily one of the more unique retail establishments you're likely to find in the area. Between the three of them, the Sohns clan offers a good deal of expertise in both areas. There's even a gallery space that will feature works rotating every few months.

If you're looking for a gift for the person who seemingly has everything, odds are that you'll find something they don't have - and will love - in this store.

Mexicali Blues

Mexicali Blues just opened up in the former Grasshopper Shop on the corner of Main and State Streets. It's an eclectic sort of retail establishment; one that's actually not that dissimilar from the one that came before it. The store features a wide variety of merchandise - clothing, jewelry, dcor, fashion accessories - all informed by the free-spirited attitude of the store.

"We'd been looking for a spot somewhere in the northern part of the state," said Topher XXX, CEO of Mexicali Blues. "The catalyst was when Rick and Lori Schweikart [former owners of the Grasshopper Shop] called, looking for a like-minded retail establishment to fill the space."

And fill it they did. The Bangor location is the sixth brick-and-mortar store in the Mexicali Blues family - they have an online presence at mexicaliblues.com - and from the looks of things, Peter and Kim Erskine, who founded the company in 1988 and own it to this day, will do a fine job in filling the niche that the Grasshopper Shop did for so many years.

The merchandise is beautiful and the prices are reasonable - put it together and you've got another first-rate retail establishment woven into the downtown fabric.

Broad Street Market

One of the few things that downtown Bangor has been sorely lacking in recent years is any sort of convenience/general store that was actually, well ... convenient. Since the end of Sweet's Market, a couple of attempts have been made at reestablishing that sort of place in downtown. The latest business to take a shot at that niche is the newly-opened Broad Street Market.

According to the proprietor, the store "is modeled after a New York City bodega that I used to frequent. [We] wanted to pack as much as we can into a small space. It seemed like it was needed since Sweet's [Market] went away."

It's a small space, but they aren't kidding about packing it full. It's just the sort of store that a thriving downtown needs; the kind of place that allows those nearby to purchase the basics without having to trek to a supermarket. It's convenience in the best sense of the word.

And then...the eats!

Just since the beginning of the year, a slew of new eating options have sprung up in downtown. You've got Zen, the new venture by the folks behind Thai Siam. Not only does the place offer first-rate Thai and Japanese cuisine, but it has become a vitally needed space for live music and other performance-driven gatherings. Housed in the old Epi's building, Zen has done a wonderful job utilizing the space.

There's Coco Loco, considered by almost everyone I've spoken to as the most authentic Mexican food available in the area. Located in the former Central Street Caf, Coco Loco offers breakfast and lunch. The menu is relatively simple, but the truth is that you get both quality and quantity for a most reasonable price. Likely the best new lunch spot in Bangor.

Massimo's has been around for a while, but they recently opened up their own bakery; a welcome addition to downtown's culinary tapestry. The restaurant's bread has long been a highlight; now you can head up the street every morning and get some for yourself. The bakery is located on Hammond Street - once you get close, you can just follow your nose. Breads, pastries, you name it - it's all there for the taking.

Nocturnem Draft Haus has become a personal favorite in the few weeks since it first opened. There's something wonderful bout having a high-end beer bar in town. With rotating taps and a constantly-changing beer menu, I can honestly say that I have never had the same beer twice. Nor have I ever been disappointed. There's some good, basic food available as well; delicious stuff to be sure, although if I'm honest, I'm usually there for the beer.

Ellsworth eateries and shops attract all appetites
86 This!

Looking for a quick lunch to go? 86 This! is a new wrap and burritos shop located on State Street in Ellsworth that may have what you're looking for. All of the menu items such as "The Clash," "Beet Knick" and the "Boss Hog" are named after rock bands, many of which happen to be some personal favorites of owner Jeff Kelly-Lokocz.

"I always wanted to open a place where punk rock girls and boys could have a date and listen to a punk rock band," he said.

Kelly-Lokocz and his wife just opened 86 This! last month and since it is a take-out only restaurant, there haven't been any bands booked for a gig. But that certainly could change, according to Kelly-Lokocz.

"If this works out we can knock down a wall and expand into something similar to Giacamo's in Bangor, but with a little more edge," he explained.

For now, customers can hear the sounds of rock and roll playing from the restaurant stereo while ordering up a sandwich made with fresh ingredients either picked straight from the Kelly-Lokocz's farm or purchased from other farmers in the area.

"I use my own herbs, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and turnips," he boasted. Kelly-Lokocz said using these fresh toppings makes his product taste better and helps keep his business costs down. And so far, the response 86 This! has received from customers and the community has exceeded Kelly-Lokocz's expectations. "It's nice to have the president of Camden National Bank walk in and order a 'Minor Threat' to go," he said grinning.

86 This! is open 10:30 a.m. til 4:30p.m Monday through Friday and 10:30 a.m. til 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

Siam Orchid

Siam Orchid has done so well dishing up Thai and sushi in Bar Harbor over the past several years that the owners have decided to open a second eatery, this time on High Street in Ellsworth. Manager Mala Sisengthong said business has been good.

"It's been busy. Our most popular dishes are the Pud Thai with chicken and drunken noodle with curry," she said.

And though this newest location has only been open five months, it has already had the good fortune of waiting on repeat customers like Betty Massie or Bar Harbor and Cynthia Perkins of Sullivan.

"We shared an avocado roll and each of us ordered the mango salad," said Massie. The friends like to meet for lunch on the deck of Siam Orchid when they can. On this day, they are enjoying the same meal selection, but both have other menu favorites too.

"The Juan Ton soup is just excellent," said Perkins.

"I often order their stir fry because I like the way they do their veggies. They aren't overcooked," added Massie.

Sisengthong admits her family's restaurant does attract a lot of vegetarians. "They tend to order the brown rice and veggies or our tofu," she said, adding those who've never had authentic Thai food or sushi should stop by at least once just for a taste. "Skeptics should give us a try. You can't judge a book by its cover."

Siam Orchid is located next to the Colonial Inn on High Street and is open 7 days a week. Summer hours are 11 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Dream Catchers

History buffs, antique lovers or shoppers just looking for that "one-of-a-kind" item will have no trouble finding something unique at The Dream Catchers Antique and Collectibles shop on Main Street in Ellsworth. This business rents space to 70 different dealers aged 10-90, which is more than double the amount of dealers it had at its previous location in Holden.

"Our worst days here are better than our best days at Holden," shared owner Tom Sawyer. "You can buy anything from a DVD to a piece of art, but our most popular items are advertising, vintage glass, and old tools."

Sawyer moved Dream Catchers to the Ellsworth location in April because it provided he and his wife the opportunity to expand the business. "We've got dealers from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine," he said.

And those who stop by to shop are from various parts of the country as well. Gary Urban of central New York stopped in while vacationing in the area last month.

"I think this is great. There's a nice selection here. I like scooters, fishing gear, radios and old furniture," Urban said. "But we're careful what we buy because we're traveling on motorcycles. If we find something we really want, we'll leave it here with friends or have it shipped," he explained.

Even if you're not looking to spend money, Dream Catchers is worth the trip just for the sheer joy of stepping back in time one antique item at a time.

Dream Catchers is open 7 days a week, 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 17:17
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