BELFAST, Maine — A crowd of Belfast area officials and merchants cheered and applauded Friday morning as the Grasshopper Shop opened its doors on a brand-new, freshly renovated space filled with toys, gifts and clothing.
Although the popular regional chain got its start in the midcoast city in the mid-1970s, the original store closed its doors in 1989. That was a time of economic turmoil in Belfast, between the collapse of the chicken processing industry in the 1980s and the rapid rise of credit card giant MBNA, which quickly became the city’s largest employer when it arrived in 1995.
The reopening of the Grasshopper Shop by owner Sierra Dietz in a long-vacant auto parts store on High Street is a vote of confidence in Belfast, where busy tourist traffic and few if any downtown vacancies are a tangible sign that the city is enjoying a period of prosperity.
“This is good karma, because they’re back,” Mayor Eric Sanders said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
But for Dietz, who lives in Belfast, the new store has personal significance, too. Her parents founded the Grasshopper Shops chain, and she practically grew up in the original Belfast store. In fact, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say she literally grew up there.
“My parents used my playpen in the window as a marketing ploy,” she told the crowd. “We’re thrilled to be back … it feels perfect to bring it full circle.”
Dietz owns the Grasshopper Shop of Rockland, which until this week was the last remaining store of the chain. Over the decades, there have also been locations in Camden, Ellsworth, Bangor, Searsport, Stonington and Bar Harbor, all of which were owned and run by family members.
She purchased the Belfast building with her husband, Rob Dietz, and began working on it in earnest in January. Because the building had been a garage, there was also environmental remediation work to do on it. Despite national supply chain issues and worker shortages, their contractor crews were able to get it done on time.
“It’s a lot of work. A lot of stress, and a work in progress,” Sierra Dietz said. “But we’re only a couple of weeks behind schedule.”
After the ribbon cutting, shoppers and curious locals alike surged into the wide-open, bright and cheery 2,700-square-foot space. They perused the colorful soaps, dinnerware, clothing, jewelry, and more that was on display.
One woman, Susan Adams of Belfast, was especially happy to look at the kids’ section with her two daughters, Raegan, 9, and Avery, 11.
“I grew up in Ellsworth, right around the corner from the Grasshopper Shop,” she said. “I’m really excited to bring my daughters here so they can experience what I did when I was a child.”
Sierra Dietz said that she has strived to be careful to offer different inventory than other Belfast shopkeepers do, with an aim towards complementing and not competing with them.
“I’m so excited today. It’s like a sigh of relief, but also just excitement,” she said. “My hope, certainly, is that we are a part of Belfast and a part of the community that’s really special.”