A central storefront space in downtown Ellsworth that has been vacant for the past five years will soon have a retro-themed tenant.
Sugar Mags, a candy shop currently located on the other side of Main Street next to the Grand Auditorium entrance, plans to move into the former J&B Atlantic home goods store at the corner of Main and Franklin streets. In addition to selling candy and soda, including many brands that have been around for decades, the business plans to offer Maine-made products and include a small arcade of pinball and video games and a community play space for children.
The business is one of several in downtown Ellsworth that have either recently opened, or that are relocating or expanding.
Main Street mainstay Flexit Cafe is moving four doors down from its current location. Meanwhile, two boutiques have opened — Poppy & Polka Dot boutique in the Main Street spot where Beal’s Gifts was located, and Bliss in the space where Ruth Foster’s children’s shop was located for many years. Share Studios Handmade Paper has opened just around the corner on State Street, in the former space of the KoT craft store, while Downeast Keto Bakery has opened nearby on Franklin Street.
Sugar Mags owner Sarah Bowden said the expanded candy shop will be a place people can rent out for parties or other gatherings. It will have tables and catering arrangements with downtown restaurants so food can be served at functions her business hosts. There will not be a kitchen on site, she said.
“We want to have a space downtown for everyone,” Bowden said, adding that the community has really stepped up to help downtown businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic. She does not have a set opening date, she said, but hopes to be operating in the new space sometime in August.
For several years, J&B Atlantic occupied all of the 9,100-square-foot Tracy Building, selling furniture and home goods in three adjacent storefront spaces at 142 Main St.
Since J&B Atlantic closed in the spring of 2016, a record store and a dance studio have come and gone from the upper two storefront spaces, but the high-ceilinged 3,800-square-foot space on the corner of Franklin and Main — where Sugar Mags is moving — has remained empty, except for some temporary seasonal uses as a farmer’s market and holiday pop-up market. It also has hosted some events, such as themed dinners and local political candidates’ forums.
The uppermost level of the Tracy Building, most recently where Northern Lights Dance Arts was located, is where Flexit Cafe plans to move this fall.
The space is slightly smaller than the one the cafe occupies now at 192 Main St., according to Paul Markosian, who runs the cafe and co-owns it with his wife Lorena Stearns. The couple also co-owns Finn’s Pub, which is right next to where Flexit is moving. Stearns manages that business.
Markosian said he and Stearns looked into downsizing Flexit a few years ago but could not find another Main Street location for the cafe. When the pandemic arrived in Maine in the spring of 2020, they had to figure out how to stay in business at all, and their interest in moving the cafe remained sidelined, he said.
But then the people who run Desert Harvest, who bought 192 Main St. last year, told him they were not going to renew his lease because they needed more room. Desert Harvest, which sells aloe vera-derived health supplements online, has seen its sales increase and needs the extra space in the basement, part of which Flexit now uses, and the first floor to handle the higher demand, he said.
Markosian said his lease runs through the end of the year, but that he expects the cafe to move in October. The cafe menu likely will change a little, he said, with more salads and baked goods, but it still will be open for breakfast and lunch. There will be no outdoor seating at the new location, he said, but the Franklin Street parklet, where picnic tables have been set up for outdoor dining and vehicle traffic has been blocked off, is just past the lower end of the Tracy Building.
The changes show that, though many longtime downtown businesses have closed down in the past decade, downtown Ellsworth is as vibrant as it ever has been, Markosian said. He said he feels lucky to be able to move into the space in the Tracy Building, which also had other suitors interested in renting it.
“This is a hot, happening little downtown,” he said.