First business in former Somerset County Jail to open Saturday

Ann MacMichael (from left), Sherri Vigue, Mary Kate Povak and Khristina Thayer knit inside Happyknits, a store inside the former visitors center at the old Somerset County Jail in Skowhegan.
Julie Cooke
Ann MacMichael (from left), Sherri Vigue, Mary Kate Povak and Khristina Thayer knit inside Happyknits, a store inside the former visitors center at the old Somerset County Jail in Skowhegan.
Posted Sept. 08, 2011, at 10 p.m.

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The former Somerset County Jail is being given a second chance at a new life.

The first business in what is now called the Somerset Grist Mill in downtown Skowhegan will have its grand opening at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Happyknits, a yarn store owned by Skowhegan native Julie Cooke, officially opens its doors after a four-month-long soft opening.

“It’s been a slow, steady pace,” said Cooke.

This is Cooke’s first business. Her store will cater to area knitters.

“To get yarn anywhere, you have to go to Waterville,” said Cooke. “We have people come from all over to get yarn [here]. It’s hard to buy yarn online when you can’t touch it. It’s nice to able to come in and actually pick it up.”

Amber Lambke of Skowhegan bought the jail last year. She’ll have her own business in the building, Maine Grains, which will process locally grown grain into flour. She plans to have her business running this fall.

Two other business in the building, Skowhegan Pottery and the Pickup, where locally grown foods will be sold, also plan to open soon.

The Skowhegan Farmers’ Market, which recently was named most popular in the state, is hosted at the Somerset Grist Mill. The manager of the market, Sarah Smith, is spearheading the Pickup.

One of Pickup’s aims is to “actually reach customers who are not accustomed to shopping at a farmers’ market,” said Lambke.

It has been Lambke’s focus to get new people into business ownership.

“One of my goals of owning that building was to incubate new businesses in Skowhegan,” she said. “I think we’re achieving some of that by having flexible lease agreements and letting people gradually build to a full-time rent.”

“[Lampke’s] been doing a lot,” said Cooke’s mother, Ann MacMichael. “She has some great plans as far as bringing some local businesses together.”

Lampke said there is still space available if other businesses are interested in joining the Grist Mill.

The process of turning the old jail into a business has been an interesting one, Cooke said.

“I love it. A lot of people come in here and say, ‘Is it creepy to be in a jail?’ I said, ‘Not at all,’” she said. “It’s a nice, sturdy good building. I love watching the transformation happen — to take something so drab and make it nice.”

She has had a few confused customers, however.

“One guy came in and said he had to post bail for someone,” Cooke said. “And I have to give them directions to the new jail.”

Happyknits can be found online at www.peacelovehappyknits.com and on Facebook.

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