CAMDEN, Maine — Sometimes it takes a newcomer’s eyes to see what was there all along.
Flint Decker, who with his wife, Gail, has renovated a high-profile downtown storefront to house his The New England Real Estate Co. and her The Antique Garden Shoppe, has organized a potluck get-together for new and old businesses.
Dubbed “Business is Blooming in Camden,” the May 17-20 event will allow those with new businesses and others that have moved, expanded or been sold to new owners in recent months to introduce themselves or catch up with owners who have been in town for years.
Decker said the idea was born out of a meeting of the Camden Downtown Business Group.
“We were just comparing notes over coffee on how many new businesses there were, and we started to laugh, because we thought that there were about eight.” But as the names began to be tossed around, it seemed the number was more like 25.
Some of those on the list of new or updated businesses will prepare potluck appetizers the evening of May 17 to offer to the rest of the business community at the Deckers’ Bayview Street office and shop. The idea is to let longtime business owners learn about the new ones, and vice versa, before the busy summer season gets into high gear, he said.
The Deckers’ enthusiasm about being in Camden is palpable. They moved to town last year from Park City, Utah, after selling their horse ranch there. Before that, he managed 21 real estate offices from Park City and helped develop a residential spa resort there. Decker, who is originally from Vermont, visited Camden as a child in 1969 and the pretty harbor village left its mark on him, he said.
Decker showed off the results of the six-month renovation of the storefront that most recently housed Unique One Sweaters & Yarn.
Built in 1833 as a bank, the teller counters and a pass-through for the vault were brought back to prominence.
In the 1930s, the building housed a plumbing supply business. And during the World War II years, when the local boat-building firm landed a contract to build minesweepers, the rear part of the structure, which was warehouse space, was converted to dormitory housing for the workers. Decker points out where a door frame had been cut to join it to adjacent buildings.
But Decker’s enthusiasm for doing business in Camden is not the domain of newcomers alone. Joyce Lawrence, who with her husband, Tim, has operated Ducktrap Bay Trading Co. for 30 years, moved the business this winter from Bayview Street to Main Street. She said that a purchase offer they couldn’t turn down was made on the couple’s building.
In the newer, smaller location, Lawrence beams with delight as she shows off several of the shop’s many hand-carved seabirds. Ducktrap Bay Trading Co. also features wildlife art, such as original paintings by outdoors writer and artist Tom Hennessey; whale figures carved by Wayne Robbins, a marine biology teacher from Bath; and duck decoys carved by Belfast’s John Jewell.
Lawrence said that on the first day she was open for business early last month, she sold a $22,000 carved owl. More recently, she sold eight photos totaling $700. Her business checks, she said, feature the phrase, “Business is Good.”
That attitude is critical to success, Decker noted.
Lawrence gave the business potluck event her approval.
“I think it’s terrific,” she said. “To get everybody involved is a good thing.”
Just around the corner from Decker’s office, adjacent to the town landing, is the newly opened Graffam Bros. Harborside Restaurant. Kim Graffam and her husband, Leni Gronros, began serving breakfast, lunch and dinner last week.
The gleaming bar and woodwork give the restaurant a bright, cheery air. The unpretentious food and atmosphere are welcoming. And the large windows just feet from the harbor close the deal.
“We have a fantastic view; we’ve got good food,” Graffam said, explaining her confidence in opening a restaurant in what may be a still-shaky economy. “This property, with this view … it was too perfect to pass up,” she said, looking out at the schooners in the harbor.
Her family operates businesses in nearby Rockport, including a seafood market. Graffam liked the idea of getting merchants talking to each other, even if many have known each other for years.
The Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, along with the town and downtown business group, are co-sponsoring the Business is Blooming event, which features sidewalk sales and longer hours at many businesses.