Saturday, May 2, 2009

Main Street's death or revitalization

I usually take a walk down Main Street of Norway, Maine when I'm going to church on Sunday morning. I was away with friends for the two weekends prior to this past one, so it was the first time in awhile that I took that stroll and checked out the businesses in town. Almost everything in town is closed on that day, but I was kind of surprised to see how three businesses have gone elsewhere.

This is the middle of town, and I'd guess it was taken sometime in mid-2007. There's a business in the white house to the left, some sort of clothing store if I remember correctly, which has become home-based since then. A computer repair place moved in for awhile, but now it's empty. The building to the right has done better. It has a satellite TV place in it here, which has since moved to the town next door; it now has a gaming shop and gift shop existing side by side.

According to the signs in the windows that I just noticed recently, a scrapbooking business has moved off Main Street (its third move in the past couple of years), a graphics business (the one in the first brick building in the photo up top) has moved to another town, and a physical therapy place has disappeared. In other vacancies, there's a small brick building that three restaurants have failed in (with another one evidently about to give it a try before long), the aforementioned white house, several storefronts in the towered Opera House building (due to questions over the building's stability and a couple of legal battles), a building which has given up two gift shops, and a space that has been occupied by a women's clothing store, a small antique place, and a Democratic Party office.

The relatively rapid change of businesses is probably due to a lot of factors, including the disappearance of a couple of major manufacturing businesses from the area and odd mixture of building types. One end of town has the Opera House, several restaurants, and a bookstore, yet it also contains a boarding house frequently visited by the police. Another factor is probably Norway's location. A half-hour drive to the south is Bridgton, which has a very nice downtown but seems to benefit from being closer to the Sebago/Long Lake region (it also seems to fall along the Maine tourism model of having several businesses shut down during the winter). Another 45 minutes to an hour away to the north is Bethel, another small town with a more solid downtown that benefits from being close to the very popular Sunday River Ski Resort. Norway, meanwhile, has the downtown but only some of the pull from recreational areas and things to do.

For all that, though, it seems like Norway is moving toward a more sustainable downtown and community. There are a few more places that seem to be creating a draw, including a terrific coffee and sandwich place on one end of town and a Vegan cafe on the other. The game shop is proving popular, and much more interesting than a satellite TV place. Moreover, there's quite a good food scene; it's hard to believe that we have a food co-op, along with a great farmer's market that shows up in the summer. There are also a few Friday night events, including a gallery walk and some open mic nights.

I lived for awhile in Brattleboro, Vermont before coming here. Brattleboro is more populous than Norway and seems to have more young people, and it also includes a huge variety of places such as coffeehouses, some night venues, a music shop, a few bookstores, some fairly unique small businesses, and a much more expansive First Friday gallery walk and farmer's market. But for its size, I guess Norway is doing all right.

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