BREWER, Maine — While the restaurant space at the intersection of Wilson Street and Walton Drive remains locked up and empty, it is one of the few vacant buildings along the Wilson Street corridor in Brewer.
The former Beef O’Brady’s space at 688 Wilson St. is the exception as available business spaces are the minority, city officials say.
Brewer Economic Development Director D’arcy Main Boyington said growth was basically non-existent in Brewer from 2008 to 2011, but it has shown recent signs of life — especially on Wilson Street.
“I would say it’s coming back on Wilson. Until 2007, we had massive growth out there, but then it got really, really slow,” Boyington said. “Now we’re seeing more and more inquiries on property and buildings in that area.”
A good example of that is 617 Wilson St., a prominent space that sat empty for a year after Bangor Car Care moved out, but is no longer empty. The new occupant is Chapter 11 Furniture, a Maine store chain that started 10 years ago and is based in Lewiston.
“We wanted to expand with a location in the Bangor-Brewer area, and this was a perfect location for us,” said Bob Dinan, Chapter 11’s owner. “It’s 10,000 square feet, right on the main drag, and located between Marden’s and WalMart.”
The Wilson Street location, the seventh store in the Chapter 11 family, opened in December.
“We’ve been open for about two months and haven’t had a grand opening yet, but we’ve had a lot of people coming in, so word of mouth’s been really good,” said Tammie Raye, one of four employees who regularly work at the store, which is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Chapter 11 stores specialize in furniture, much of it Maine-made, as well as non-furniture goods like health and beauty aids, vitamins, colognes and perfumes, dry goods, juices, sheet sets, rugs, snacks and pet supplies.
The 617 Wilson St. space sat empty for about a year, but its reoccupation seems to be indicative of an improving business climate in Brewer, according to a city official.
“Most of what we’ve been seeing lately is commercial remodeling, which is good given the economy and the time of year,” said Ben Breadmore, Brewer’s code enforcement officer. “We’re on track to have a very good year, at least as far as my department goes.”
Beef O’Brady’s has been vacant since it closed Oct. 1.
Interest in the space has been sporadic the last three months, but it has picked up recently from one particular party.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve had a lot of interest, but we’ve had some. We know of one individual in particular trying to get into that space right now,” Boyington said. “This one would be a first-time owner-operator and it would be a non-franchise, locally-based restaurant.”
In the meantime, there aren’t a lot of other “vacancy” signs out in Brewer, and that’s good with Boyington.
“We don’t have a lot of open spaces,” Boyington said. “We have the former Nyle Corporation building [on Center Street], B & L Auto Body on South Main, and the old box factory [on South Main next to Save-A-Lot].”
Breadmore and Boyington said the most encouraging signs come from the types of building projects generating recent discussion. They cited examples such as the recent grand opening of a newly-constructed, 11,000-square foot indoor baseball/softball training facility on Acme Road.
“They built Sluggers in 14 weeks and it fills a void after the WIN batting cage facility closed,” said Breadmore.
Another void will be filled with the completion of a 14,000-square-foot renovation of the children’s care facility at CancerCare of Maine’s Lafayette Family Center on Whiting Hill Road.
“We’ve had more interest in places and locations, not just retail,” she said. “And we’ve had a lot of talk regarding expansion, distribution, and manufacturing, but not a lot of closed deals. But there was literally no talk and action about those kinds of projects between 2008 and 2011.”