A city renowned for its food will, for the first time in 150 years, not have a traditional grocery store in the heart of its downtown.
Paul’s Food Center, a Congress Street mainstay, plans to close its doors in a few weeks after the building in which it’s been housed since 1975 was sold to a pair of firms with ties to a popular indoor flea market.
A new owner of the historic building said the restaurant Vinland and Yes Books, which share the building, will remain, as will current tenants of the apartments on the upper floors.
Hammond Heirs, LLC and Paul’s Boutique, LLC — partnering firms managed in part by Erin Kiley, owner of Portland Flea-For-All — closed on the 585-593 Congress St. property Thursday. The sale price was not disclosed, but the property’s assessed value is more than $1.3 million.
Shoppers on Friday said that loss of a grocery store would be a blow for nearby seniors and other people who have difficulty getting around.
“What’s really tough is 10 Congress Square, which is low-income housing, is right next door with elderly people who are going to have a hard time finding places for them to go shopping,” said Will Meserve, who lives in an apartment upstairs from the store, and whose girlfriend is an employee there.
Mark Cole lives next door with his mother at 10 Congress Square and said they’d need to take a cab to get to other grocery stores. They both suffer from physical limitations and have trouble carrying a week’s worth of groceries.
“People count on being able to get around to Paul’s,” he said. “If Paul’s is gone, if there ain’t no store there, we’re going to have to find a way to go shopping. Everyone in this building is going to have to find a way to go shopping.”
A grocery store of some form has occupied that space for more than 150 years, according to Portland television station WCSH 6, which broke the news of the sale Thursday.
Food store founder Paul Trusiani died in September at the age of 81, and the grocer has been managed since then by his son, Jim Trusiani.
“While we regret that for a variety of business and personal reasons the family can no longer continue to operate the store we are proud and thankful to have been an important part of Congress Street for 40 years,” read a statement released by the Trusiani family Friday afternoon. “We welcome the new owners and wish them the best with their endeavors. Our family continues to grieve and asks that people respect our privacy.”
The building had been divided among Paul Trusiani’s heirs, with his wife Annamarie retaining a half interest and another half belonging to the estate left to his wife and children, according to property records.
When reached by telephone, Kiley said it’s not certain whether she’ll move the Flea-For-All, a popular antique store and indoor flea market in the Bayside neighborhood, to the higher traffic location currently occupied by Paul’s.
But she did say current residents of the upper-level housing units, as well as a street-level restaurant and bookstore, will all be asked to stay.
“We have no plans to ask them to leave,” Kiley said. “[Restaurant] Vinland just renewed their lease with us. Yes Books doesn’t have a lease, but we love them as tenants.”
The new owners also formed the Hammond Heirs Condominium Association with plans to designate four condo units — three for the current commercial spaces, and a fourth as an entity to cover the 14 residential apartments — in the building. That allows the company to establish rules for tenants, but does not necessarily mean it will develop the building into residential condo units.
The company hired Portland-based Bild Architecture to be involved in the project. Kiley said “mainly cosmetic, not structural” changes to the building will be primarily designed by Hammond Heirs partner Rob Barrett and performed by his construction company, Barrett Made.
The 589-591 Congress St. portion of the property is an example of Italianate style architecture and was built by William Hammond Heirs in 1857, according to Friday’s announcement, while the Queen Anne style portion at 585-587 Congress St. was designed by famed architect Francis Fassett and added to the structure in 1880.
The 29,000-square-foot building currently has 14 residential apartments on the upper floors.
“This building has so much to offer — it’s an incredible snapshot of Portland’s unique history,” said Barrett. “We’re thrilled to be able to build on that legacy and bring out its natural character.”
The building stands adjacent to Congress Square, a public space that in recent years was the subject of a controversial proposal sale to private hoteliers, which was ultimately overturned. The location is a few blocks from the temporarily closed Joe’s Super Variety, which carries some grocery items and is expected to reopen as part of an apartment building currently under construction at around 665 Congress St.