YARMOUTH, Maine — Sitting around the cracker barrel or general store with a wood stove blazing in the background is a Norman Rockwell image of village life. Fast-forward a century, add macchiatos, gourmet pizza and the blue light of digital gadgets, and the weeks-old community carriage house in Yarmouth Village is Maine’s modern version.
Attached to Handy’s, a speciality market with an OTTO’s Pizza and cafe under one roof, this “village great room” opened this month with a nod to the past and solid focus on the future.
“With all of our Wi-Fi and World Wide Web, what is it besides the schools that bring us together?” asked Sean Ireland, the project’s developer. “It’s shopping in our hometown and meeting people.”
Open morning, noon and night, this coffeehouse by day and pizza place at night is an emerging hybrid. Starting in March, a loft will morph into free public meeting space. It’s a model that Ireland, part owner of Handy’s, is shopping around to other towns.
“I am a firm believer that smaller communities need flexibility and multi-use, multipurpose spaces,” he said. “It’s an extension of people’s living room, dining room, home office, den. A place to see their friends.”
And in our atomized, digital age, human contact is more needed than ever.
“All along our intention was to cast the net wider than a specialty store,” said Ireland of what he calls a “community resource” for this town of 7,200 and surrounding neighbors.
Aesthetically, the space is welcoming.
The open, partial post-and-beam room with cathedral ceilings invites the public to linger. The barnlike atmosphere picks up on the town’s heritage. Ireland, who worked on The Press Hotel in Portland, reimagined the best of the past.
“There are so many carriage houses in Yarmouth,” said Ireland, who retained old signs from the legendary Andy’s Handy Store that opened on Main Street in 1935.
A vintage Moxie sign from the previous shop anchors one wall and Andy’s former marquee dominates the mezzanine. On a winter day hot tangerine booths, splashes of gray and warm wood emit an exciting vibe. It’s vaguely hip, and yet, with kids and moms camped out over scones, community-centric to the core.
Upstairs, Gorham Savings Bank has leased the loft for two years. The bank is offering it up as a community board room. The rustic space will be available to nonprofits, local groups, organizations or anyone in Greater Yarmouth, including Falmouth, Durham and North Yarmouth, that can’t afford to rent space for meetings. The room is wired for PowerPoint presentations and video conferences. An online reservation system launches next month.
Though the bank doesn’t have branches in town, “Yarmouth has always been an important part of our market,” said Eric Andrews, chief banking officer at Gorham Savings Bank. “We’ve known there has been a need for community space. This is a fun model to try.”
In the new gig economy, where many people work from home, and small towns lack ample public space, Ireland thought the concept was ripe.
“What did they have 120 years ago? What do we need now?” was his guiding principle.
He seeks to further build community, one pint at a time.
A few days ago he broke ground on a pub next door. Expected to open in May, the as-yet unnamed “family friendly pub will have great food, which ties in and expands on what we started next door,” said Ireland. “The village pub is the fabric of the community.”
So far, so good.
“It’s amazing. So exciting,” said Joel Kase, a North Yarmouth medical professional noshing on a slice of pizza last week in the carriage house. He expects to meet here with colleagues and their kids to bond over pie. “This could start a little bit of a trend.”