Old Town has seen something of a resurgence in commercial activity in its downtown over the past few months, with a handful of new businesses and excitement about what’s to come with the expected reopening of the Old Town pulp mill.
“Like many communities, we lost our anchor businesses in downtown and everything went to the malls,” Economic Development Director Ron Harriman said. “Now it seems like things are going full circle and people want to come back to downtown.”
Last year, the city received a $100,000 grant from the state and put in $25,000 in local money to renovate 12 downtown building facades on Main Street.
The upgraded look from the facade renovation, the pulp mill’s expected reopening and the construction of a downtown entertainment venue have inspired a handful of new businesses to set up shop. A restaurant, a sporting goods consignment store and a variety store have all opened their doors since Chinese paper company ND Paper bought the Old Town pulp mill in October 2018 and announced plans to restart it.
“We both live in Old Town, and we wanted to be part of the rebuilding of downtown,” said Ida McChesney, co-owner of Outta the Ordinary, which opened in December and offers a range of gourmet pizzas, stuffed burgers, subs and salads. “We saw things were starting to move down here.”
McChesney lives near the mill, and when she started seeing activity in the parking lot, she and co-owner Kyle Lemieux realized it could be an ideal time to fill a gap in Old Town’s dining scene.
The new downtown music venue that concert promoter and Old Town resident Alex Gray is building at the site of the former Kingman’s music venue also gave McChesney and Lemieux hope that there would be a steady stream of potential customers.
Outta the Ordinary is currently working on a basement bar that will feature a pool table, cornhole and other activities.
“We’ve had a great response from locals,” McChesney said. “People are really responsive to the things that we’ve been doing.”
People working to restart the mill have been coming into the local businesses, including Outta the Ordinary, McChesney said.
Gray didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment, but Harriman said the venue is expected to open in September. Construction there has started, he said.
“That’s going to be a tremendous draw in Old Town,” Harriman said. “It’ll be the catalyst for business and residential growth.”
Another development bringing foot traffic to downtown Old Town is The Rock Church’s new location, which the congregation moved to after four years of services at an Orono movie theater.
Outside of downtown, on Stillwater Avenue near Old Town Elementary School, business at the 5-week-old Tradewinds variety store location is off to a strong start, said General Manager of Operations Dutch Holland.
“We’ve been trying to get up to Old Town for a while now,” he said. “It’s been going great so far.”
Holland said he’s excited to see the potential increase in business the opening of the ND Paper mill could bring.
The last time the mill closed, in 2015 — when it was under the ownership of Expera Specialty Solutions — Old Town formed a downtown committee to work on the area’s revitalization, City Manager Bill Mayo said.
“Some of that is starting to pay off,” he said.