BELFAST, Maine — Sierra Dietz practically grew up in the Grasshopper Shop in Belfast, the first in the popular regional chain of gift and clothing stores that her parents founded in the mid-1970s.
Now Dietz, 46, the owner of the Grasshopper Shop of Rockland, is returning to her roots by opening a second store in downtown Belfast, where she lives. The original Belfast shop closed in 1989.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” she said. “It feels like the stars have aligned and this is the right time. I’m really excited.”
The Belfast Grasshopper Shop will be located on High Street, across from the Belfast Free Library, in the square white building that was the longtime home of Carquest Auto Parts. That business has moved to Renys Plaza.
Dietz, who purchased the building with her husband, Rob Dietz, is working with a Rockland architect and Belfast general contractor to prepare for a hopeful late spring or early summer opening. The 2,700-square-foot space is big enough for her to offer nearly the same mix of women’s and children’s clothes, gifts, decorative housewares, greeting cards and more that is in the Rockland store.
She wants to be thoughtful in what she carries to avoid duplicating what other downtown Belfast merchants are selling. That’s why she won’t be offering shoes in Belfast, which is home to Colburn Shoe Store.
“It is a smaller space so there will be a little less of everything,” Dietz said of the new Belfast location.
Something that delights her is the fact that the new store is just a block away from the original 79 High St. location opened by her parents, Ken Schweikert and Johanna Strassberg. They were back-to-the-landers living in Thorndike when they ventured into retail, purchasing a Belfast newsstand called the Grasshopper Shop.
“They were living off the land and working kind of odd jobs here and there. Nothing too serious,” Dietz said. “And then I was born in 1975, and I think that was a little bit of a wake up call.”
The store caught on with its expanding inventory of items Mainers needed, and it wasn’t long before they moved to a larger space on Main Street in Belfast, where Chase’s Daily is today.
Then the couple began opening Grasshopper Shops in other communities. Together, they owned and ran the stores in Belfast, Camden and Ellsworth. They owned the Bangor store in partnership with Dietz’s uncle and aunt, Rick and Laurie Schweikert. Over the decades, there have also been locations in Searsport, Stonington, Bar Harbor and Rockland, all owned and run by family members.
“It has always been family,” Dietz said. “Even when the stores were owned and operated independently, we still worked together.”
The Grasshopper Shops — cheerful emporiums full of toys, gifts and other items — were a hit with Mainers and out-of-state visitors alike. And the Belfast shop was a second home to Dietz, whose playpen as a baby was in the store’s bay window. As she got older, she and her brother went there after school and helped out until her parents were ready to go home.
“I think at the age of 8 I was trained to gift wrap for the holiday season,” she said.
As a young teen, she began to learn bookkeeping and then buying inventory, but she didn’t think it was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
“I was ready to move on, and leave Maine and go to college somewhere else.”
After college, she was living in Boston when she fell into retail again. She realized that she was good at it and enjoyed it, too. In 2000, she and her husband moved back to Belfast and she rejoined the family business. By then, her parents had split up and closed the Belfast store. Dietz became her mother’s partner in the Rockland store in 2005 and became the sole proprietor when her mom retired in 2015.
Over the years, the other stores have closed but the Rockland Grasshopper Shop is going strong.
“We just finished our best year ever,” she said. “It certainly has been a challenge through the pandemic. I feel positive moving forward that people appreciate what we offer. “
She hopes that will be true in Belfast, too, a community she loves.
“Part of the value of the Grasshopper Shop is that it has always been part of the community,” Dietz said. “Bringing it back home feels really good and positive and nostalgic.”