May 26, 2018
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On Main Street: The evolution of downtown Bangor

BDN file photo | BDN
BDN file photo | BDN
Merchants Bank under construction in 1972.
By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

You can tell a lot about a community by its main drag. You can get a sense of its personality by what businesses are there, the density of traffic both vehicular and pedestrian, the condition of the buildings, the architectural style.

In Bangor, Main Street has always been the heart of the city. It’s the part with some of the oldest buildings, most of which survived the Great Fire of 1911, and for many years it was home to some of the longest-standing businesses in Bangor, such as Freese’s, Standard Shoe and W.C. Bryant’s. From the lumber baron days of the 19th century to the booming retail center of the early to mid-20th century, even to the decline in the wake of urban renewal and the opening of the Bangor Mall set away from the bustle of downtown, Main Street has always been synonymous with the city.

Now that Bangor’s downtown has come back in a big way — in the final four months of this year, four new Main Street businesses have opened within 1,000 feet of one another — it’s worth taking a look at how the main drag in town has changed over the decades. It’s also worth remembering the past, when all holiday shopping was done downtown, when back-to-school clothes were purchased downtown, when lunch was had and prescriptions were filled and friends were greeted, all downtown.

To that end, we’ve compiled a list of businesses that have inhabited the buildings on Main Street, from Union Street down to West Market Square. In addition to the storied memories of Bangor residents and the vast archives of the BDN, we referenced the Bangor Directory, a yearly publication that listed all the businesses in town, that was put out from 1927 until 1998 and nearly every copy of which is housed in the Bangor Room at the Bangor Public Library.

In an effort to include as much of that history as possible, backed up by official city documents and records, we start our story of Main Street in 1927, though some of the businesses on this list precede that date. By doing this, we also include businesses that are in the living memory of most of the people who have lived in Bangor. There aren’t a lot of people left who remember what life was like in Bangor in 1913.

We are aware that there may be businesses missing from this list, and we recognize that the exact dates of businesses opening and closing aren’t included in the directory, only the year. This is why we welcome your contributions to our story — to what also is your story — so that we may have a more complete picture of the Queen City.

Our hope is that this project will be the start of many dinner table, coffee shop and grocery store line conversations. Should we receive more contributions, we may continue this project with other streets in Bangor, or perhaps in other cities in Maine. Here’s to honoring the past, and looking forward to the future.

This project would not have been possible without the assistance of Bill Cook and Elizabeth Stevens, local historians at the Bangor Public Library; Bangor historian Richard Shaw; Bangor economic development director Tanya Emery; and the stories relayed by a number of Bangor residents.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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