Downtowns Part 2: Downtown Waterville 

Many cities and towns across Maine are working hard to revitalize their downtowns, and that includes Waterville. Shannon Haines is the Executive Director at Waterville Main Street, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping the downtown area growing. “Most of our businesses are independently owned,” Haines says, “so we have a wide mix of restaurants and retail that are owned by people that live in our community. I think that makes people really care about the downtown.”And business is booming. The one empty store front on Main Street is the old Al Corey Music Center that closed in 2010. Haines says they’ve asked business owners and consumers what they’d like to see take over the space. “But we’d like to see a music store, a book store for adults, a bakery deli, so we have lots of things on the wish list.”Another item on the downtown wish list can be crossed off. A Save-A-Lot grocery store is set to open in the Concourse, taking over the old Ames building.One new business that’s thriving is Selah Tea, a tea café that opened on main street last May. “The downtown is booming,” said Selah owner Rachel McGee. “Lots of things are going on here. Lots of festivals and events. We’re excited about what’s going on in Waterville and the growth that’s happening here.”Businesses that have been around awhile are finding life in downtown Waterville just fine. Businesses like Barrell’s Market. They’ve called Main Street home for the past three years. “I think what’s great about downtown right now is there feels like a lot of energy around reinvigorating the Main Street,” Barrell’s Assistant manager Melissa Hackett said. “And really feeling like having that connectivity. We’ve been working a lot with area businesses on main street to sort of feel more connected. How we can help promote each other. Cross promotion.” A series of annual events also attracts tens of thousands of new visitors every year, making downtown Waterville culturally and socially unique. Events like the Taste of Greater Waterville, where restaurants from all over central Maine descend on Main Street to showcase their talents. “It’s really crazy and fun,” Hackett said. “It’s really great for Main Street because you see all of Main Street is full of people, people having a good time, and eating, and trying new foods.”The Maine International Film Festival is entering it’s 15th year of showcasing the best in international and local independent films. “Last year it was held up at Colby College because the opera house was under renovation,” Haines said. “This year it will be back at the opera house and we’re really excited about that. That adds a whole new buzz to downtown Waterville in the summer.”Some of downtown Waterville’s rich history has recently been uncovered. During a $3.1 million renovation of the Waterville Public Library, the staff found photographs, some a century old, that give us an idea of how much, or in some cases how little, downtown Waterville has changed. “We all have in our own personal lives and homes, we all have things that are surprises in our attic and we sure had more than our share,” library Director Sarah Sugden said. “We were really lucky to uncover a tremendous treasure trove of local history resources and artifacts that we are thrilled to be in the process of cataloging inventorying and digitizing.” With an already established downtown, some might think folks in Waterville can rest on their laurels. But they’re always looking down the road on how to make their downtown even better. “So we’re working on business recruitment, but we’re also working on beautification efforts,” Haines said. “Things like new banners, and trash cans, and bike racks. Things that make downtown more appealing to visitors and to residents. So there’s always work to be done. Always improvements that can be made.”