Aroostook residents enjoy an evening meal while inside Rodney's at 436 Main in Presque Isle on May 24. Credit: Paul Bagnall / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Main Street in downtown Presque Isle has rebounded, with more than two dozen new businesses opening there in the last year.

Approximately 27 new businesses have opened on Main Street from 2022 to 2023 according to Galen Weibley, director of the Department of Economic and Community Development for Presque Isle. Some of the rebound has been in retail stores, along with restaurants that were significantly hit during the pandemic like Coppers Lounge at 436 Main and Cafe Sorpreso at 415 Main St.

Filling empty storefronts on Main Street was part of the city’s 30 year downtown revitalization plan. In its plan, the Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee had identified target areas of economic development, beautification by adding flowers and banners, and holding events such as the six-part Rockin’ on Riverside concert series that began at last Saturday’s Fiddlehead Fest.

Only two vacancies remain as of May 2023.

“Over the past few years there has been such a rapid renaissance in downtown Presque Isle,” said Christy Daggett, chairperson for the downtown revitalization committee.

Daggettt said the downtown is becoming mixed use with the revitalized Northeastland Hotel, four new clothing stores, Home Ec. Market, Braden Theatre and Hub Coffee among others in just a few blocks.

There were vacant storefronts on Main Street when Weibley first arrived in Presque Isle three and a half years ago, he said. Now he’s excited to see the new growth and energy for the downtown revitalization effort.

“You’ve seen there have been new businesses that have arrived such as Rodney’s and Ferris BBQ that are certain to take the place of some of the businesses that we lost,” Weibley said.

People are walking around Main Street more often as the weather gets better, and attending community events like the second annual Color Run/Walk and the 14th annual Aroostook River Fun Run.

“I think it’s nice now that we have a lot of new shops that people can explore and Main Street [in Presque Isle] is coming back to life,” said Meeka Ketch, owner of Acadia Bodyworks Massage Therapy.

She has been in the same small office space in the back of her building for four years and moved on May 1 to the front of the building at 375 Main St., Ketch said. It was shortly after Neighborhood Books left for its expanded location at 270 Main St.

Ketch will expand her services to include infrared light therapy and more foot therapies for her offerings.

Many businesses are migrating from the malls to main streets, where they can have storefronts. That national trend of people wanting to experience an area’s downtown is revitalizing those areas, Weibley said. 

Visitors want to shop local and Presque Isle has a quaint downtown with historical buildings to attract curious customers, Weibley said.

“It does feel like the community and Main Street downtown as a whole is on the cusp of blossoming,” said Matthew Ryan, proprietor of Royal Leaf Apothecary.

Ryan has been in Presque Isle for two years after moving in from Seattle, Washington. He has seen a dedication to the downton corridor, but he would like to see more investment in the waterfront on the Aroostook River.

The results of a survey done by the city’s Department of Economic and Community Development at the Winter Craft Fair last year, and an expanded survey in the lobby area of City Hall, showed that people want more shopping destinations and activity businesses in downtown Presque Isle, Weibley said.

There’s also a question of work and life balance for employers because the survey showed that one reason people don’t have enough time to walk the downtown area is because of their busy work schedules.

The last challenge to filling the remaining vacancies on Main Street are buildings that need renovations. The cost of building supplies has been going down again in recent months, but the labor shortages keep the cost of the actual work high.