LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — The Center General Store was long a focal point for the small community of Lincolnville Center after it was built in the 1850s, but for the past few years, the large building in the middle of town has been dark and empty.
Now, new board by new board, that is changing.
Marcie and Jeremy Howard of Hope bought the building last April from most recent owners Briar and Jon Fishman. Over the last year, the couple has been busy with a massive renovation project that should leave them with a general store that looks old-fashioned but allows them to try new ideas — including showcasing locally grown produce and goods, and tempting diners with a well-thought-out cafe. If all goes well, the store will be open by late spring or early summer.
“I never thought that I would own a general store,” Marcie Howard said. “Now, it’s something I want to do.”
On a recent Saturday morning, the Howards and their three young sons showed off the changing structure.
Jeremy Howard’s other job is as a contractor with his Heartwood Carpentry company, and he has been able to do the work himself. His wife, who teaches sign language classes to children and makes “upcycled” wool mittens, said that they have been pleased about the excitement of locals who are looking forward to its reopening after a hiatus of about four years.
“It’s all positive,” she said of the local feedback.
“It’s always been kind of the cornerstone of Lincolnville Center,” her husband added. “It’s important.”
Jeremy Howard said he had to essentially gut the building and has worked to put in a large addition behind the original store structure. In that new place, the couple will sell groceries and other things that the community needs. They have had requests from locals for fresh produce, fishing tackle, feed and seed and organic baby product options.
“Things people won’t have to go to Belfast or Rockland for,” Marcie Howard said.
In the original store space, they will have the cafe, featuring sandwiches, pizza, quiche, soup and breakfast items. It will also feature wireless Internet access and coffee, and the couple imagines that it could be a place for the community to gather for movie nights, classes, talks, music and other events.
“We’re really looking forward to the next couple years of figuring out what the community needs the store to be,” Jeremy Howard said.
Town Administrator David Kinney said more than 2,000 people live in Lincolnville, spread out between the center, the beach and what he affectionately refers to as “the hinterlands.” The center has been undergoing something of a renaissance, he said, with an upcoming town office expansion project, the renovation of the old schoolhouse and, of course, the general store.
Residents are looking forward to having it open again, he said.
“The community is very excited,” Kinney said. “I think people are maybe not literally, but figuratively, standing at the door.”