Rockland, the new coastal vacation destination

Posted Oct. 14, 2011, at 5:09 a.m.
Last modified Oct. 14, 2011, at 2:10 p.m.

Has Rockland become a bigger tourist destination than Camden?
Such an idea would have been unthinkable a short few years ago when Rockland had a fish meal plant that turned out a baked vomit smell along the waterfront, and a putrid dump smell that polluted its inland.
(I once had a Rankin Street apartment that featured both smells, depending on which window you opened.)
A few years ago (maybe 25) Main Street had more plywood than glass on storefronts. The common complaint was “Camden by the sea, Rockland by the smell.” There were so many Dobermans patrolling Main Street that the City Council banned all dogs from the street.
To tourists, Camden was the belle of the ball. Rockland was the homely stepsister. Talk to anyone across the country. They know Camden, at least by reputation.
The worm has turned, baby. Rockland has stolen most of Camden’s iconic windjammer fleet. Rockland’s lower rents have attracted a slew of art galleries that cluster around the famed Farnsworth Art Museum like a mother hen feeding her chicks.
Even people who love the Lobster City will be surprised by the treatment Rockland got in the September issue of Coastal Living magazine, based in Birmingham, Ala., of all places. This glossy mag says Rockland “feels like a slice of Greenwich Village.“
Honest to God.
“A short stroll past the bright art galleries, independent bookstores, boutiques and new apartments in historic brick buildings can become an entire day’s affair. With no chains, the waterfront retail space is reserved from cafes to canvases.”
Pay attention.
“Rockland has become a big-city mix of edgy, abstract and traditional galleries. Its downtown and its art district are one in the same. You can wander into an art gallery and then walk next door for a sandwich, possibly prepared by one of the many Culinary Art Institute-trained chefs within a few blocks.”
Rockland.
I am amazed that the mag omitted Dark Star Coffee at Rock City Coffee, meatballs at Rustica and the bread from the Atlantic Baking Co., my Main Street faves.
The magazine gushes over the stunning spiral staircase at the Harbor Square Gallery. The small-town atmosphere in the city is part of its charm, according to Limerock Inn owners Frank Isganitis and P.J. Walter.
The magazine lauds The Lucky Dog Gallery for its handcrafted pottery and the restored 1923 Strand Theatre. The eclectic food offerings along Main Street and environs include Cafe Miranda, Good Company, Lily Bistro and, of course, Primo, where Melissa Kelly celebrates her James Beard Award. The mag claims that Suzuki’s Sushi Bar “has become one of the most revered sushi outposts from here to Boston.”
Tired tourists were advised to check out the Victorian Berry Manor Inn with its award-winning pies, the 1892 Limerock Inn and the Old Granite Inn, especially Room 5, which offers an ocean view.
Not to be outdone, this month’s Boston magazine joined in the chorus of acclaim for Rockland in its “Fall Getaway“ issue. Boston magazine does recommend Camden’s Hartstone Inn where Julia Child enjoyed her 89th birthday, naturally. But it quickly sends readers to Rockland’s Farnsworth Art Museum and its Wyeth family exhibits. It also suggests neighboring Archipelago, the Island Institute store on Rockland’s Main Street. Boston mag also suggests a ferry ride from Rockland to “windswept North Haven” for a retreat at Nebo Lodge. If you can’t find anything downtown to suit your taste there is always the dependable Samoset Inn, with fall rates from $159.
Amazingly, Camden is now treated as an afterthought by some observers touring the midcoast area.
Rockland, you’ve come a long way, baby. But the dump still smells.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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