House of Handsome owner Loryn Moran begins her work for client Jared Buck as another day begins at Main Street in Presque Isle on Feb. 10. Credit: Paul Bagnall / BDN

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Small businesses are growing in a big way in Presque Isle.

Though worker shortages, high rent and utility hikes have plagued businesses around Maine as they recover from the pandemic, several entrepreneurs are gaining footholds and bringing something new to Aroostook County.

Having more choices closer to home helps keep consumer investment here without residents having to travel elsewhere in Maine. In Presque Isle, projects like Ignite PI’s reopening of the Northeastland Hotel and upcoming plans to reinvent Main Street aim to boost business and give people more reasons to spend money locally.

“People here in Aroostook County, I’ve noticed, are very drawn to independent businesses that are privately owned,” Safe Haven Spa owner Kristin Kingsbury said. “I think they show a lot of support and that’s probably the reason why we succeed.”

Kingsbury, 34, opened her business just a month ago at her grandparents’ house on 64 Griffin St. in Presque Isle. She started out offering services for Salon 207 on North Street..

Kingsbury grew up in Presque Isle but moved away to Falmouth when she was 12. She went to college to study behavioral health but didn’t end up finishing because the career path wasn’t for her, she said.

While working at a skin care and makeup store in Freeport, she met her mentor Renate.

Renate encouraged Kingsbury to become an esthetician, which is a technician specializing in skin care beautification. Kingsbury always loved doing other people’s makeup and has been a licensed esthetician for the past 14 years.

The spa offers customized teeth whitening, spray tanning and body treatments. Many returning clients want a regular schedule and enjoy trying something new when they come back, Kingsbury said.

So far Safe Haven is booked until the end of April.

Inside Cosmic, the metaphysical and women’s boutique store, located at 445 Main Street in Presque Isle on Feb. 10. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

Over on Main Street, 36-year-old Matt Nadeau’s shop Cosmic sells unique women’s clothing, metaphysical and spiritual items and work from local crafters, like glass etchings on tall steins from SuzyQ Etching and hand-woven baskets and other items from Lin Trombley Studio.

Cosmic began in 2018 as a seasonal shop in the Aroostook Centre Mall. Nadeau also owned a salon called Bella Vita at the same time. Last year, Nedeau closed Bella Vita to open Cosmic full-time at his new Main Street location.

Some clothing items feature two to three different fabrics woven together. Nadeau also designs graphic T-shirts for the store.

“All I’ve wanted to do was to have my own place and meet people every day. They all have different stories, we connect, they come back and form that little relationship,” Nadeau said. “I love offering new and different, exciting things.”

Customers often say that Presque Isle needed a store like Cosmic, Nadeau said. To accommodate different needs, he offers an online store and curbside pickup.

Farther down Main Street is House of Handsome, which opened in 2018 and caters exclusively to men. Owner Loryn Moran, 30, knew there were no full-service salons for men and wanted to fill the gap.

“I never thought I would be a business owner but I fell in love with what I did in the Old Port and there wasn’t that [type of service] up here,” Moran said.

The salon is decorated in a rustic and antique-like theme, and clients are greeted by Moran and her dog Massey, whom she calls the “sleeping mascot.”

She offers haircuts and spa-inspired services like shoulder, neck, and scalp massages with hot towels, aromatherapy wraps and a choice of shampoos at the end.

Moran got her start in men’s hair in 2011 at The Men’s Room in Portland and wanted to bring that experience to Aroostook County. The House of Handsome had a smooth launch with substantial community support, but Moran said the hardest part for her clients — which Nadeau echoed — is finding parking on Main Street in downtown Presque Isle.

Moran said it’s fun being her own boss, but has its challenges. She managed to start her business without applying for loans or grants from the city.

“It’s nice when I see those guys who come in and get a drastic change. They get a different haircut and if they have facial hair they get that cleaned up,” Moran said. “I’ve always wanted people to feel better about themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin.”