In 1979, the building at 26-28 Central St. in downtown Bangor housed a grocery store, owned by the Zoidis family. That year, the building burned to the ground, and after the charred remains were razed, the lot sat vacant for more than three decades.
Businesses came and went around it. Community members planted flowers in the space each spring, calling it a Pocket Park, or Zoidis Park. Bangor Hydro Electric installed a small transfer station, after the City of Bangor granted it an easement. In the late 1980s, the Zoidis family gave the space to the city, at a loss for options for what to do with it. The city, in turn, didn’t do anything with it either.
“We wanted something, anything to go in there,” said Patricia Alcott, who until 2010 owned 30 Central St., the building adjacent the lot to the right, where she ran an antiques shop.
“It seemed crazy to me that there was this big block of buildings with this empty lot right in the middle of it,” she said. “It was kind of an eyesore.”
Finally, 33 years after the fire, the lot has changed ownership, and a firm plan is in place to turn it into something productive. Central Street Farmhouse, the business now located at 30 Central St., owned by the husband-and-wife team of Betsy and Zeth Lundy, purchased the lot from the city for $5,000 this past March. The Lundys intend to turn the lot into an organic garden, a test kitchen for beer brewing, soap-making and canning classes and a multipurpose outdoor space for a variety of events. Recently, the first sod was laid down, and a gravel path was cut through the center of the lot.
“I’m not going to lie, we had our eye on it from the beginning,” said Zeth Lundy, whose business specializes in home beer, wine and cheese making, Earth-friendly baby care and home goods, natural and local foods and other DIY projects. “And really, what else could possibly go in here? The nature of the space is such that building a new building isn’t really feasible. It just happens that what we want is just right for the space.”
In addition to Bangor Hydro’s easement, Time Warner Cable and Northeast Occupational Exchange also have easements. The foundation from the old building is still in place, which was part of the reason why the city had to dig up and fix a portion of the lot last year — the foundation was causing quite a bit of flooding in the Lundy’s basement. The couple lives with their two small children, Zoe and Grant, on the top floor of the building and look out on the lot every day.
“It’s not an ideal property for most people, but it’s perfect for what they want to do with it,” said Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow, in March interview. “Plus, it goes back on the tax rolls and we no longer have to maintain it.”
“I was honestly surprised at how cooperative [the city] was during this process,” Zeth Lundy said. “We told them what we wanted, and they loved every part of it. It was almost too easy.”
On the outer wall of Central Street Farmhouse, you can still see the joints that connected the two buildings and held up the floors of the old building. As 30 Central St. is a historical building, the joints had to stay — but for the Farmhouse’s purposes, they’re fine where they are.
“We’re going to grow hops up the side of the building,” said Zeth Lundy. “Hops need to run up, so those joints are actually perfect for us. It’ll look really nice, and we’ll actually use [the hops] in our beers.”
On the right side of the space, the Lundys intend to plant a variety of organic vegetables, which they and Farmhouse patrons will maintain over the season. On the left side, Farmhouse employee Asa Marsh-Sachs will maintain a variety of perennial flowers — Marsh-Sachs’ family owns Zone 4 Perennials in Sidney, so he’s well-versed in their care and maintenance.
Growing flowers and vegetables in an urban setting has been a hot topic in recent years, with the success of rooftop and square-foot farms in cities such as New York, Montreal and Amsterdam. In Bangor, the Hammond Street Senior Center has maintained a rooftop garden for several seasons. Central Street Farmhouse aims to help individuals who want to try their hand at it.
“It opens up so many possibilities for us,” said Zeth Lundy. “Having an outdoor space allows us to expand all the classes we offer. We are a retail store, but we’re also a community resource, and this space lets us do that in way we haven’t been able to before.”
Later this year, the Lundys intend to build a three-season kitchen in the back third of the lot, where much of the beer-brewing and cheese-making will take place, along with canning and soap-making. They’ll also install a 6-foot-tall wrought-iron fence along the sidewalk. While the space will be open to the public during the day, at night they want to close it up to protect it from vandalism.
Betsy Lundy said she hopes to put in a sandpit for children to play in, and they will also offer their extremely popular Tuesday morning Music Time with Miss Julie class outside, as they’ve outgrown the baby boutique upstairs. The Lundys are also in talks with organizations, including KahBang Arts, that hope to put an art installation in later this summer. Zeth Lundy said he sees possibilities for projecting movies on the big wall, hosting small music events and much more.
Alcott, who watched for years as the space languished, couldn’t be more pleased with the way the Lundys have used what was formerly an unfortunate gap in Bangor’s booming downtown.
“I think it’s all part of all this great stuff that’s been happening here. There’s really this spirit of renewal and all these possibilities that are floating around,” she said. “Everything just kind of magically came together here. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Central Street Farmhouse’s first class in the farm will be a Square Foot Gardening workshop with Ryan Parker from Parker Produce in Winterport, set for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 3.