BANGOR, Maine — If you recently picked up a gallon of milk, caught a movie or filled a prescription in the Bangor area, chances are pretty good Sidney Epstein helped create the place you went to do it.
Epstein, a commercial real estate mogul from Bangor, died Monday in Scarborough, about five months after celebrating his 100th birthday.
“Many of his projects became part of the everyday fabric of our lives,” even if the evidence wasn’t always visible to shoppers and patrons, Epstein’s daughter, Carol Epstein, said Monday evening.
“He had a great overall business sense and trusted his own judgment,” Carol Epstein said. “He loved real estate, he loved working with local businesses, whether it was contractors or somebody starting up a business. He was interested in the businesses and wanted to see them do well.”
Epstein ran Epstein Properties, a company that can trace its roots back 95 years, when his father started a theater business. The company is now managed by Carol Epstein. Sidney Epstein clocked in at work just about every day until he “retired” to Scarborough at age 99.
Epstein graduated from Bangor High School in 1931 before attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a degree in 1935.
Epstein and his parents had a passion for theaters. Once he returned home after college, Epstein started managing movie venues in Dover-Foxcroft and Dexter.
In 1942, he joined the military, serving out World War II in Philadelphia, where he oversaw materials distribution. He was discharged from the Marines as a captain and returned to Maine to continue the theater business, alongside his wife, Helen Epstein. Helen died in 2000 after 54 years of marriage.
In the 1950s, television presented new challenges for the movie theater business and Epstein recognized he needed to spread and diversify his business. In those days, he often put in 16-to-18-hour days to ensure he was doing enough to help his business and the businesses he managed thrive, according to past colleagues.
His real estate efforts expanded to post offices, downtown buildings, government buildings, shopping plazas and even some residential properties. Some notables include Key Plaza in Bangor, Brewer Shopping Center, Old Town Plaza, Orono’s Dryden Terrace and many others.
“I have done business with Sid for over 30 years, through good times and bad,” said Charles Osgood, senior vice president at Bangor Savings Bank. “It’s how people conduct themselves during difficult times that shows true character. If Sid said he would do something, you could take it to the bank, period. He was tough but fair. There are many businesses in the Bangor area that exist today because of Sid. He was a great man, a huge part of Bangor’s success, and he will be sorely missed.”
Throughout his life, Epstein continued to love the theater business. He directed traffic at the former Bangor Drive-In, took tickets at the Bangor Opera House and even sold concessions. He also helped develop and expand Bangor Mall Cinemas in the late 1970s and 1980s. During conversations, Epstein sometimes would pull out a napkin or old receipt and scrawl out a “free pass” to the movies, which were always accepted by the theater, according to Bob Collins, a former general manager of Epstein Properties who first met Epstein in 1966 and went to work for him in 1983.
“He certainly was an icon in the city of Bangor,” Collins said Monday. “He was a generous man and a private man in a lot of ways.”
Epstein was a philanthropist, but was usually quiet about it.
In 1991, Sidney and Helen Epstein donated money to build an addition to Congregation Beth Israel, the synagogue to which they belonged all their lives. He also was a member of the Kiwanis Club of Dover-Foxcroft for more than 75 years.
William Small, president of the synagogue, called Epstein a “gentleman” and a “grand man.”
“Sidney was very dignified, refined, and a very intelligent and astute man down to the end of his life,” Small said.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, in the Epstein Room at Beth Israel Synagogue, 144 York St., in Bangor, according to Epstein’s obituary. Visiting hours will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12 and 5-7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, at Carol Epstein’s home, 43 Vance Ave. in Bangor.