BELFAST, Maine — The last year has seen some sad changes in downtown Belfast, with the closing of a bookstore, toy store, dry cleaners, music shop and ice cream shop that have been well-loved fixtures here.
But Monday night marked a positive change as more than 30 business owners, Belfast boosters and others squeezed into the new office for Our Town Belfast in the Mall on High Street to celebrate its opening and to talk about plans for the city’s future.
The new civic group is a member of the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Network, which is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program. It aims to support the downtown business district.
“I think it will be able to add focus to the energy that’s already here,” said Meg Fournier of Roots & Tendrils. “Belfast has so much to offer. It can help the town realize its full potential.”
The crowd sampled beer brewed by Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. on the city’s waterfront, tried ice cream from Stone Fox Farm Creamery in Monroe and shared ideas and hopes for Belfast’s future. They also heard that young entrepreneur Bryant Hall will be opening an ice cream, coffee and panini shop in the former Scoops space in January, that a computer shop will move into the Em Bee Cleaners Inc. building and that a book and antiques store is coming to fill the space where Wild Rufus Records was.
“Everybody loves Belfast, but we want it economically to be more viable,” said Mike Hurley, a city councilor and co-owner of the Colonial Theatre. “We spent a lot of years, both on the city side and in the business community, wrestling with how do you make downtown healthier. What does it need? When we went searching for the tool, the Main Street program is the tool.”
Larraine Brown, project manager for Our Town Belfast, said that her organization is planning special holiday festivities and will be co-sponsor of New Year’s By The Bay with the goal of encouraging downtown vitality.
“Our whole purpose is to support the heart of Belfast,” she said. “Our premise is a strong heart of a region makes for a strong region. We support the downtown, totally.”