BELFAST, Maine — Inside a cavernous former window manufacturers’ showroom in downtown Belfast, entrepreneur Paul Naron’s dream to build the biggest indoor farmers market in Maine is beginning to come together.
Naron, who purchased the long-vacant Mathews Brothers facility in March, has been working fast to renovate it into the United Farmers Market of Belfast. When the Saturday-only market opens sometime next May, he is confident it will host dozens of vendors selling all kinds of products, including vegetables, fruit, prepared food, baked goods, meats, cheeses, desserts, coffee, ice cream and plants.
“Hopefully it will be a big event that draws a lot of people to town on Saturday mornings,” he said. “Hopefully the vendors make a lot of money, have a lot of fun and can operate successfully year-round.”
It’s an ambitious goal, but the businessman said he has the chops to pull it off. More than 30 years ago, Naron purchased a small lumber and hardware store in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida. By the time he sold it a couple of years ago, it had grown to nearly 100 employees.
“This is using the same skills,” Naron said. “But instead of having employees, I’ll have vendors.”
Even when he was still running his Florida business, Naron spent time in Maine because he is an avid sailor who appreciated the state’s small harbors. That’s how he found Belfast, where he purchased a home seven years ago that is located across the street from the Mathews Brothers building.
“I’ve been staring at that building for seven years,” he said.
Naron decided that the empty building’s large size and views of Belfast Bay and the Belfast Common park were selling points he couldn’t resist. Since March, when he bought it, he has been busy making changes such as installing enormous windows to frame those picture-postcard views. He also built long, wooden tables to allow shoppers a place to sit, eat and enjoy the scenery both outside and in.
“I just want to have a fun market,” he said. “It’s all about breaking bread with your neighbors. That’s the whole thing. Sitting around on a Saturday morning and enjoying your neighbors.”
On his travels, Naron visited the Charlottetown Farmers Market in Prince Edward Island, which has more than 80 vendors, and the Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market in Fredericton, New Brunswick, which has more than 250 vendors that are located inside and outside. He believes the concept also can work in Belfast, where his 24,000 square foot facility is roomy enough to fit as many as 100 different farmers and vendors. So far, 17 have signed up, including Stone Fox Farm Creamery of Monroe, Highland Blueberry Farm of Stockton Springs, Amigos Taqueria of Winterport and Maine-ly Poultry of Warren.
Naron is eager to find more prospective vendors, who will pay a fixed fee to rent stall space and who don’t need to commit to a long-term lease.
“We have to have a diversity of vendors to get enough people to come here,” he said. “This is an opportunity for people to have a much more efficient way of marketing their stuff on a more steady basis.”
For more information about the United Farmers Market of Belfast, call Paul Naron at 323-5679.