Tamara and Lance Lovewell prepare drinks during the opening day of Ruska Coffee Co. on Sweden Street in Caribou. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine – It has been a rough year for Caribou’s downtown, but several entrepreneurs are determined to help jump-start a revitalization.

Sweden Street has struggled to attract and retain businesses since Limestone’s Loring Air Force Base closed in 1994, which led to major population decline. Once a vibrant restaurant and retail center, the area has seen businesses come and go over decades, with The Caribou Theater and Sears Hometown Store being the latest to announce closures.

January fires on Sweden Street and nearby Water Street have made the city’s goal to turn historic and blighted properties into community hubs once again even more challenging.

If the owners of three new downtown businesses have their way, the city will see more frequent and enthusiastic shoppers.

“There wasn’t anything else on this end of town at the time, so it was important for us to offer something new,” business owner Tamara Lovewell said.

Near the intersection of Sweden and Prospect streets sits Ruska Coffee Co., in a building that once housed the locally famous Buzzell’s Clothing Store. Tamara and Lance Lovewell renovated the shop to make it a go-to spot for coffee and pastry enthusiasts, with cozy seating and a gift shop.


The couple moved to Caribou from Washington state in 2021 with their six children. They had always wanted to live in Maine, but the pandemic motivated them to make the move.

A year in the making, Ruska is a smaller version of the coffee stand the Lovewells operated at a family fun center they owned in Washington. They offer espressos, cold-brew coffee, plant-based energy drinks, smoothies, flavored Red Bull infusions and a rotating daily menu of pastries like scones, cupcakes and cookies.

From the start, the Lovewells wanted to be on Sweden Street. So far, community response has been even stronger than they imagined. On opening day Monday, they sold out of pastries by noon as around 300 to 400 customers visited.

Near closing time that afternoon, Holly Grant and Marcy Heald of Caribou enjoyed coffee at one of the shop’s back tables.

“They did a nice job [with the place]. It’s very comfortable,” Grant said.

Grant and Heald had not yet gone to DiOddo’s Pizzeria, another new business across the street, or Herschel Street’s newest craft store, Memere Rae’s Designs. But they were excited to hear downtown Caribou is growing again.

“We need more local businesses,” Heald said.

Just across the street from Ruska’s, in the former Reno’s Family Restaurant building, DiOddo’s Pizzeria plans to bring brick oven-style pizza to Caribou.

Owner Robert DiOddo could not immediately be reached for comment. While announcing his plans in November, DiOddo said he hoped to bring to Caribou an authentic Italian pizza experience that he had popularized in Fort Kent.

“When Reno’s closed, it was devastating to many,” said City Manager Penny Thompson. “[But] Caribou has become a hub for the hungry with our many restaurant choices. I’ve heard great things about DiOddo’s.”

Down the road at 82 Herschel St., Rae Rossignol has opened Memere Rae’s Designs, an arts and craft store and event space.

Rossignol has been painting since she was 10 years old and picked up artistic skills in ceramics and laser-etched design as an adult. After living in southern Maine for many years, she returned to Aroostook in 2020 and began teaching art classes for SAD 1 Adult Education in Presque Isle.

Rae Rossignol, owner of Memere Rae’s Designs on Herschel Street, helps her grandchildren Ozai, 7, and Ellie, 2, paint miniature gnomes. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

When she realized the Caribou area did not have a shop for ceramics supplies, Rossignol, who lives in Woodland, was inspired to open a shop that caters to artists of all ages.

Memere Rae’s Designs opened in mid-February and sells artwork created by Rossignol and other local artists, ceramics and paint supplies, and will offer specialty art classes and events.

Rossignol considers her location near another specialty art store/workshop ideal for helping downtown become an artistic haven. Glass With Class, owned by Lisa Wark, is at 53 Herschel St.

“It would be great to have a combined event where people start at Glass With Class and end here, or vice versa,” Rossignol said. “Lisa and I would love to grow the art community and bring more color to the downtown.”

While working with city employees to open the shop, Rossignol found Caribou to have a business-friendly culture that encourages people like her, she said.

“I emailed the city clerk’s office and within 24 hours they got back to me with a list of available rentals and steps I should take [to open a business],” Rossignol said.

Caribou has promised to step up resources for entrepreneurs, Thompson said. For instance, the city is accepting new applications for its spring facade improvement grant awards, one of which Ruska received last year. The awards specifically target downtown businesses.

City officials hope seeing several new businesses in town will motivate other entrepreneurs to get started on their ideas, Thompson said.

“When someone is considering acting on a dream of entrepreneurship, they look for project partners. There are economic development tools available in Caribou and the city wants to help foster the creation and retention of small business,” she said.