MADAWASKA, Maine — The people of Madawaska will be lost without McDonald’s and they’re going to fight to save the relationship.

In a video posted Monday, residents and town officials make an impassioned plea to corporate McDonald’s, asking the company to rebuild in Madawaska when the current drive-thru is eventually torn down for the construction of a new Land Port of Entry.

For people in Madawaska, McDonald’s has been a staple in the community for 50 years and is one of the only affordable food options in town. It’s a meeting place for morning coffee and a regular stop between school and soccer practice. But for Maine’s northernmost town of about 4,000 people, it’s also a matter of economics.

Losing the McDonald’s would contribute to the ongoing loss of major commercial businesses in Madawaska. In early 2019, the town lost its Kmart after corporate parent Sears went bankrupt, and the building still sits vacant on Main Street. Former select board member Brian Thibeault assembled the team that produced the video, and said the town can’t take another blow like that.

The businesses that are left in Madawaska rely on each other to bring in customers, Town Manager Gary Picard said. Someone who shops at Tractor Supply may stop off for lunch at McDonald’s, and a family from Grand Isle coming to get McDonald’s might spend money at a local shop downtown.

The video’s creators, who include several current and former members of the town’s government as well as other residents, hope that they can convince McDonald’s of the restaurant’s importance to the community. As of Tuesday afternoon, “Save Madawaska McDonald’s” had almost 5,000 views, and Picard had sent it directly to contacts at McDonald’s corporate office.

McDonald’s is the last building standing in the middle of the port of entry construction site, but the restaurant has remained operational as negotiations to sell have been underway for months. Nobody in town — including the local McDonald’s staff — knows when it will close.

“The gain of the new infrastructure is highly important for the town; however, the after effect of losing the store is significant for a smaller community,” video contributor and Madawaska high school teacher Colin Jandreau said. “I also liked [Thibeault’s] message about rethinking the value of small towns and how maybe they can continue to be vibrant places to live, certainly if the corporate world is willing to rethink how they make decisions about rural America.”

Interspersed with drone footage of the port of entry and international bridge construction sites and film from the town’s annual Acadian Festival earlier this month, the video features interviews with McDonald’s drive-thru customers making their case to build a new restaurant in town.

From the convenience of having an inexpensive, quick place to eat, to the jobs McDonald’s provides in town — kids, parents and other townspeople say the restaurant is an integral part of the community. While the town does have a Tim Horton’s, the coffee shop isn’t a replacement, residents said.

“We would love to keep [McDonald’s]  here. We don’t have any fast food places other than this,” Madawaska resident Rachelle Clavette said in the video. “We’d be lost without it.”

“We need the jobs in town,” a customer interviewed in the video said. “It’s the only drive-up other than Tim Horton’s — and they don’t do burgers.”

Madawaska has known the current McDonald’s would be displaced by the federal construction projects in town for several years, Town Manager Gary Picard said, but so far talks with potential franchisees haven’t gone anywhere.

Bringing new businesses into a small town like Madawaska is difficult, but the busy Main Street McDonald’s is its own proof of concept, Picard said.

“McDonald’s would be sending a message to Madawaska,” Thibeault said in the video. “What would it be? It would be that you matter. Small town America, you matter.”

Madawaska McDonald’s franchise management declined to comment on the video. McDonald’s corporate did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning.

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.