The Commons is a group, a building, a dream. Nine area women have joined their energy and resources to restore an historic building on Eastport’s waterfront. In The Shop at The Commons, we offer the work of 90+ fine artists and artisans for sale: burl bowls, hand-knit sweaters, botanical paintings, original jewelry, felted garments, handmade paper note cards, wildlife paintings, and so much more. On the second floor, two glorious fully-furnished two-bedroom seaside vacation rentals are available by the week between June and October. From November to May, our vacation rentals are ideal for sabbaticals, and may be rented by the week or the month. In addition, we have a classroom/ studio/conference room available for rent by the day.

Come and visit The Shop at The Commons, take in the wonderful view from the deck, and share in our dream.


      

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

                                                                                           —Eleanor Roosevelt

(Front row) Sue Crawford, Alice Otis, Ruth Brown, Alice Gough (Back Row) Anna Baskerville, Meg McGarvey, Nancy Asante, Linda Godfrey, Vera Francis.

Vacation Rentalsvacationrentals.htmlvacationrentals.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0

    To Do & See

51 Water Street, PO Box 255 Eastport, Maine 04631 207-853-4123

A lot in Commons                                                                                              

by  Alicia Anstead of the Bangor Daily News - April 24, 2004                                                  


About 50 years ago, Robert Chafey worked at the auto-parts store in the Mincton Building, a prominent brick structure on the bend of Water Street, the main artery in Eastport. He was a boy then and the job gave him enough money to buy a BB gun he had been eyeing. When he wasn't at target practice, Chafey liked to be downtown because Eastport was so busy those days. “You had to walk in the road if you wanted to get around on a Saturday night,” he recalled recently.


Now Chafey, whose ancestors arrived to the area in the 1700s, works as many as five jobs in the course of a year, including his current one as a clerk at S.L. Wadsworth & Son, a ship chandlery. The shop's storefront windows are a perfect vantage point for observing the old Mincton place, which, in the ensuing years, has been a clothing store, real estate agency, art gallery and medical office. Mostly, it has been empty.


But this winter, Chafey had a front-row view while the building underwent major renovations that have returned it to a former elegance while at the same time serving as Eastport's newest symbol of hope for its re-emerging downtown.


On May 1, the Mincton Building will reopen as The Commons, a nexus for leadership and educational programs, business conferences and a retail store for local artists and craftspeople. The newly refurbished complex also includes two upstairs apartments with panoramic bay views available for weekly rentals in the summer and longer periods in the winter. An additional street-level room may be rented by private businesses and individual professionals by the day.


Saturday’s celebration, which takes place 1–4 p.m. at the Commons, includes tours of the multifaceted building, free refreshments, music by the local Celtic Smeltic Band and entertainment by the Eastport Puppetry Collective. A mystery guest celebrity will speak at the 1 p.m. “Fanfare for The Commons” opening activities, and a formal dedication ceremony will take place at 2:30 p.m., when “The Common Good Awards” will be given to local and state individuals and groups who have assisted in the project.


If awards were given for every builder, carpenter, contractor, floor refinisher, delivery person, painter and all-around cheering section involved in this project, the list would likely fill the city’s phone book.


But while the Mincton Building has been renamed The Commons in part to acknowledge its place in the community, it has been the result of uncommon efforts on the part of four driven women, as well as two Eastport-born sisters in their 90s and three additional shareholders who formed a corporation last fall to purchase the building for $100,000. No one will put a number on how much money has gone into the renovations, but the owners like to say: “It’s a million dollar view and we hope before long, it’s a million dollar building.”


The primary shareholders are all in their 50s and 60s. Nancy Asante and artist Meg McGarvey, are sisters who grew up in New York state but have family ties to the area and have been visiting Eastport since childhood. (McGarvey moved to Perry in 1974, and now lives in Eastport; Asante moved back in 2001, after living in Ghana and Montreal with her former husband.) Sue Crawford, who lives in nearby Robinston, grew up in Illinois and was an academic administrator in Ohio for many years. Godfrey, who is from Michigan and moved to Eastport 14 years ago, also has a background in higher education, as well as politics, public relations, and corporate development.


As primary shareholders, the women have worked together — hiring carpenters, interviewing artists for the retail store, picking out furniture and winning support from the locals — in an effort to contribute to and participate in a hopeful economic revival that has been gradually occurring in Eastport for more than two decades but seems to be reaching a crest in recent years. They hope, too, to create professional possibilities for themselves, their neighbors and visitors to the city and region.


“If we are going to live the lives we want to in these communities, we are going to have to own them,” said Godfrey, founder and president of Eastport’s Atlantic Leadership Institute, a consulting service, and the major catalyst behind the revitalization project. “We have heard this many times in the Washington County Leadership Institute, but last summer, I heard it in my own ear.”


And she whispered it into the ears of the women who would become her partners. The whisper quickly grew to a conversation and then into a vision.


“I wanted to do this because there were possibilities here that were going to continue to develop the community,” said Crawford, who also works as a consultant for the World Bank. “It was the working together — not individually, but together and across the border — that was interesting to me.”


While many residences in Eastport and retail spaces along Water Street are dilapidated, enough have been repainted, restored and reoccupied to hint at the stirring of civic pride and economic promise the Commons organizers say they are tapping. The Mincton Building sits like a beacon among them, its modern facelift obvious among the frontier-style facades of the other structures, most of which were rebuilt after a fire that tore through the city in 1886. But the Mincton, erected during the building boom in 1887, is by no means the only jewel in this town.


Last year Marty Howbert, who splits her time between Florida and Maine, bought two attached storefronts across the street from the Mincton Building and calls it the “little gem.” Known locally as the Dudley Building, the structure was close to being condemned when Howbert and her partner, Garfield Arthur, a restoration carpenter, bought it last year because of a for-sale sign that read: “Buy me and get my sister for free.”


“We bought it because of the city of Eastport,” said Howbert, who has spent summers there for the last 15 years. “It would have cut the town in two to have that building gone.”


Howbert has no plans at the moment for the destiny of the little gem, which she and Arthur are restoring in increments. Her neighbors’ project, she said, is likely to speed along the process of others hoping to capitalize on the changes in the area.


“They are creative and they all have a vision,” Howbert said of the Commons team. “This is an investment for the town to go on for generations. It’s breathtaking. They will probably end up making money just for all the love they've put into it. And it sets the stage and makes me more excited about going all the way with my building.”


As with many “from-away” residents who come to live in Eastport, Howbert noted the uniqueness of the life in the remote community. City promoters like to point out that it’s the country's most easterly city and one of the first places the sun hits the United States in the morning. Such designations, combined with the wide-screen water views, a network of artists, the nearby Passamaquoddy reservation and colorful movie-setlike storefronts along Water Street create a kind of “true north” mystique.


To live here, you have to be hardy with diversified skills and a respect for the long winters, long drives, short summers and even shorter conversations with locals. To create a business here, you have to understand a unique balance between abundance and scarcity.


“More than anything, I think a business [person] here has to realize some of the limitations of the area and to position their business to either work within these limitations or to be able to tap into the economy outside of the area,” said Hugh French, founder and director of The Tides Institute, a cultural resource center that occupies one of the historic buildings downtown. “With only 1,600 people, Eastport itself does not have a large customer base. Nor does it have a large summer tourism base — certainly nothing remotely like what one finds on the mid- or southern coast of Maine. I think several business attempts here have failed because of unrealistic expectations.”


The organizers for the Commons readily admit that they face challenges, but their goals are well within French’s prescription for matching the project to the profile of the area. While the target audience for the building’s usage may be outsiders who arrive for vacation, educational programs, sabbaticals, workshops, private business or even the gift store, the local population stands to benefit by providing services in restaurants, hotels, additional gift shops, tours, and performing arts.


Many who live in the area, including the women behind the Commons effort, boast of existing cultural institutions and attractions in the city limits: Eastport Arts Center, Stage East Theatre, Eastport Gallery, Eastport Puppetry Collective, Shackford Head State Park and an all-out Fourth of July parade and fireworks display. Additionally, they like to remind visitors about Roosevelt Campobello International Park across the bay in New Brunswick and many activities in nearby Lubec, including Summer Keyes, an adult music camp, and Quoddy Head State Park. The list expands with outdoor and shopping activities: sea kayaking, hiking, beachcombing, seal watching, golfing, antiqueing, and attending local church suppers.


All of these elements factored in to the potential the women saw for increasing the marketability of their city. Not coincidentally, these are many of the same elements that originally drew them to or back to the area where they say they enjoy a high quality of life. And where they hope others will arrive with their purses and wallets to value the same qualities.


They are quick to point out that the old quotation, “If you build it, they will come,” is only part of the equation. As many entrepreneurs in remote areas of the country have learned, it takes more than just bricks and mortar to build a dream.


Perhaps the most important component of any revitalization effort, said Lora Whelan, director of Eastport for Pride, a historic preservation group overseeing federally funded changes to the appearance of the city, is less easily measured by dollars and cents.


“If a community is not behind a renovation project, there’s no point in doing it,” said Whelan, who described coming projects to resurface sidewalks and restore appropriate lighting along Water Street. “For Eastporters, the changes are exciting. I think we're all thrilled that one of our downtown buildings is being renovated and used. This is a group of investors deeply committed to the community using a form of community-initiated development, which is becoming popular in small towns. When you see this happening downtown, it encourages everybody to feel revived in their love for the place they come from. I think the sense of renewed interest is very strong.”


Renewed is exactly the right way to describe Alice Otis (mother of shareholding sisters McGarvey and Asante) and Ruth Brown, the senior members of the Commons corporation. The sisters were born in Eastport and have spent much of their lives there, although Otis raised her daughters in New York and Brown had a long career as a librarian in New Hampshire. When they were girls, they traveled by horse and buggy and wore snowshoes as transportation to a one-room schoolhouse. Now they live together with McGarvey just beyond the downtown.


The two women have been preparing for the opening of the Commons by making greeting cards out of pressed wildflowers on their property. They plan to sell the cards in The-Shop-At-The-Commons, the retail space that will feature earth-theme works by about 35 local artists, including some from Canada.


“It has waked us up,” said Brown cheerfully of the project. “I think that other people will see this going on and will try to improve their places.”


“I think people will be surprised by this group of women,” added Otis. “I’m surprised! I do believe it can change a lot of people’s thinking.”


For Chafey, the man who has been watching the activities from the chandlery on the other side of Water Street, the reanimation of Eastport is no surprise. In a flash of Yankee patience and persistence he said:


“It’s been nice to see the building go back to the way it used to be. I’ve been saying things were going to improve in Eastport for the last 40 years. Nobody believed me. But this time I think it has come back.”

The Women of The Commons Eastport