This vacant three-story wooden building in downtown Belfast that used to be home to Em Bee Cleaners has new owners. They would like to demolish it and rebuild a two-story structure in its place. Credit: Abigail Curtis | BDN staff

BELFAST, Maine — Contractors were already at work Monday afternoon to begin the process of taking down the 116-year-old former Em Bee Cleaners building on Church Street in Belfast.

The new owners of the long-vacant three-story wooden structure, Alex and Kendra Brigham, received approval last month from the Belfast Intown Design Review Committee to demolish it. The demolition is expected to be completed by Jan. 10, 2022, according to Bub Fournier, the director of the city’s Planning & Codes Department.

The Brighams, who are seasonal residents of Islesboro, intend to build a mixed-use, two-story building on the site. The new building will have commercial space on the first floor and residences on the second, Fournier wrote in a memo to the mayor and City Council. It will feature a design that emulates characteristics of the historic brick building next to it, which the couple also recently purchased.  

“The project is expected to breathe life into a centrally-located section of the city’s downtown core,” Fournier said.

City councilors voted unanimously at Tuesday night’s regular meeting to allow the contractors to occupy four parking spaces in front of the Em Bee Cleaners building during the demolition process.

The 7,900-square-foot wooden building was built in 1905 for Thompson’s Manufacturing Co., which made workingmen’s clothing, according to Megan Pinette, the president of the Belfast Historical Society & Museum.

During World War II, it was home to Maritime Quality Hardware, a company founded in 1942 by industrialist Gunther Kleeberg. He eventually hired 73 people, mostly women, as trained machinists, tool and die makers, draftsmen and designers who built parts for the U.S. Navy. The workers used instruments as delicate as jeweler’s lathes and as big as two-and-a-half ton machines to make parts for radar equipment, navigational instruments and anti-aircraft guns.

After the war, the building changed hands and became Em Bee Cleaners, a dry cleaning company that was in business for more than 50 years. In 2010, the owners of Em Bee Cleaners sold it for $130,000 to Good Earthkeeping Organization, a California-based environmental cleanup company whose owners said at the time they intended to renovate it. Not much was done and the building has sat empty for the last decade,

Belfast Development Director Thomas Kittredge said last month that redeveloping the space likely would be positive for the city.

“[It would replace] three stories that’s being completely unused, that’s not generating pedestrian traffic or economic activity or needed housing,” he said. “I’m certainly excited about the possibility of a redeveloped site.”