In addition to operating Maine Port Brewing, Robert and Paula Martell plan to open a second-floor Airbnb called Over the Tap.
Robert and Paula Martell are opening Searsport's first brewery at the historic Leach Block on Main Street. Credit: Kay Neufeld / BDN

SEARSPORT, Maine — Downtown Searsport is set to grow this spring with a new brewery.

Robert and Paula Martell are currently converting the Leach Block, one of Searsport’s historic buildings, into a brewery and tap room. The building, at 34 East Main St., was most recently home to Captain Tinkham’s Emporium until 2020.

The brewery’s arrival marks continued economic growth in downtown Searsport. The town has had an ongoing cluster of empty storefronts since 2009, shortly after the recession hit. The town, however, is finally recovering. Ten of Main Street’s 12 storefronts are set to be occupied in the coming months.

“It’s filling up steadily. I think our future looks very bright,” Town Manager James Gillway said.

Maine Port Brewing, which Gillway said would be the town’s first brewery, will offer six to eight beers, including IPAs, APAs and brown ales, brewed on site with a taproom where customers can drink them.

One brew is already locked down: an Irish blonde named “Patty Mahoney.” It will honor Robert Martell’s mother, with whom he planned to open the brewery until she passed away in 2020.

The Searsport Planning Board approved their site plan permit application on Aug. 8. The last step will be obtaining a permit for brewing, Robert Martell said. The Martells have gutted the building and are in the process of renovating it.

The couple also is building an Airbnb unit on the second floor called Over the Tap, where visitors can drink beer from the downstairs brewery on tap in the apartment. Eventually, the Martells hope to expand the brewery to include more drinks, a beer garden and food cooked off-site through collaborations with local restaurants.

The Martells are aiming to open Maine Port Brewing in late April or early May.

The Leach Block was Searsport’s first brick building. It was originally built in 1834 by Andrew Leach, who served on Searsport’s first Select Board, according to the Historical Marker Database. Over the years, the building has been home to a market, billing office, antique store and barbershops.

Paula Martell said there will be signs of that history across the taproom, from the exposed brick walls and original floors to a 200 year old door the couple recently uncovered during the remodel. The brewery also is named after the town’s first proposed name, “Maineport.”

“We really wanted to understand and feel connected, not only to the community but to the building. We’re not trying to modernize it. We want to keep as much history and the look and feel of the original building,” Paula Martell said.

The brewery will be a neighbor to eight new businesses that have moved onto Main Street in the last three years, according to Gillway. It’s a stark contrast from the last decade, after downtown Searsport’s businesses were wiped out by the 2008 recession.

“It was pretty much empty,” he said.

But downtown is on the upswing, Gillway said. Businesses have been consistently filling up Main Street’s store fronts since 2019. In addition to the current eight, two more businesses are headed for Main Street, including a bookstore, he said.

The Martells are excited to be a part of that momentum. They hope to help Searsport transition from a thoroughfare to a destination.

“We’re looking forward to bringing a lot of people in and changing the face of Searsport,” he said.