You’re in Machiasport, wondering what local sites you should check out. A local resident tells you that you really should visit the Bucks Harbor Shopping Mall.
Sounds impressive, right? So you decide to take a look.
You might at first dismiss the observation that the road to the mall is suspiciously narrow, curvy and lined with trees that provide a thick canopy, unlike most multi-laned mall roads. Then, as you pull up to the mall’s parking lot, you see that it’s gravel and large enough for maybe a dozen vehicles. The one-story structure it leads to is not much larger than a double-wide trailer, and it looks like it has been closed for years.
Yes, you have been had, and you’re not the first.
Residents like to use this somewhat dilapidated local landmark as a kind of practical joke on tourists or others unfamiliar with this rural Washington County town of about 1,100, Deputy Town Clerk Susan Tilney said.
“I have taken visitors there. They come from cities where a shopping mall is a thing of splendor,” said Tilney, a former Philadelphia resident who began vacationing in the area 17 years ago and became a permanent resident in 2010. “People who come from away, they look at it and say, ‘Oh. Right.’”
And like many practical jokers, Tilney had the joke she plays on others played upon herself by those who told her that if she wanted a really great shopping experience, she should check out the mall.
“The first time my husband and I pulled in there, we just sat there and giggled,” Tilney said.
The building probably draws visitors looking for a great shopping experience even without anybody pulling their leg. It is still listed on mapquest.com.
The joke is meant, Tilney said, in good fun, and the “Bucks Harbor Shopping Mall” sign that remains on the building is not as out of place as you might think. Prior to its closure within the past decade, the mall actually did serve as a place of commerce. It was a local convenience store, said 70-year-old Jim Sherman of Machiasport, a member of the town’s historical society.
Built back in the 1970s by Herb Rose, the building offered the usual convenience store features — two gas pumps for regular and high-octane fuel, basic first aid and medical supplies, basic foodstuffs, smokes, and snacks. It served breakfast for local lobstermen, offered small sandwiches for lunch, and had a little pizzeria oven and a candy counter, Sherman and Tilney said.
“It was very, very small, and calling it the Bucks Harbor Shopping Mall was really very tongue in cheek,” Sherman said.
A Boston Globe correspondent in 2009 wrote that the store, run by Lana Webb, had the feel of a “private club,” where fishermen showed up for breakfast at 4 a.m. (even though it didn’t officially open until 5 a.m.), parking their trucks “this way and that outside.”
“The kitchen is just like a home kitchen and everything is cooked as it would be at home,” wrote the correspondent, Jonathan Levitt. “There is a rack of mugs on the wall. Each one is different, and each fisherman has a mug that he prefers to use.”
If they came at the right time of year, visitors would get to see that especially and uniquely Maine touch — several tons of moose hanging at the store’s tagging and weighing station, Sherman said.
The store was a solid contributor to the area’s economy. It carried basic tools that lobstermen and clammers used, such as gloves, and “lots of retired senior citizens would work there to earn that little extra to help with finances,” Tilney said.
It is difficult to tell what the building’s future is. It does not appear to be listed for sale on real estate search engines, and its owner, Webb, did not return telephone messages.
Tilney said she likes having the building as a kind of deadpan point of reference. The humor around it was an early sign that the Tilneys would love to live in the area. “We just fell in love with the people,” she said.
“It tells visitors that they are going to be in for a real culture shock when they get to our neck of the woods,” Tilney said, “and it would still make a great general store.”