Eric Agren: Downtown Lewiston is alive and well

New restaurants, shops, businesses have all chosen to locate where the action is.

I wish to congratulate Mayor-elect Robert Macdonald and wish him luck in the significant responsibility of representing our city.

However, I wish to address some concerns that I and my downtown neighbors have about some of his recent public comments.

I am 100 percent invested in downtown Lewiston, and am passionate about what we are doing downtown.

Having lived on Lisbon Street for five years, I was personally upset about Mr. Macdonald’s comments that Lisbon Street looks like a “Fourth World country.” Or, even worse, that “we have a downtown over here that is filthy” and “these people have no respect for themselves ...”

Wow.

My neighbors were surprised. The ones who live on my block. The jewelry store owner, the gallery curator, the executive chef, the owners of a restaurant (also in downtown), were confused. Our focus is on the great things going on in our downtown.

In his Dec. 15 announcement, Macdonald was clear in saying that he was going to be “happy face Macdonald,” and wanted to bring everyone together, to move forward and do good things for our city.

Shortly after, he stated that Lewiston is a nice place, “on the outskirts of town.” That followed a comment at a debate two weeks ago when he said, “Things are not opening up downtown.”

I could not disagree more.

Niky’s Greek Restaurant opened last month. With fresh herbs in the windows and a menu celebrating their ethnic heritage, they are a welcome addition. The Vault, an amazing boutique wine store, opened just a few months ago. Maine Gourmet Chocolates, on Park Street, opened a couple of months ago, as well. In downtown.

Forage, a specialty food store with its own brick-hearth bakery, opens very soon. Their beautifully renovated building also houses a new yoga studio and a residence.

84 Lisbon St., my neighbor across the plaza, is now a fully renovated and updated building with beautiful apartments. Which are full.

Lewiston Auburn Magazine and Captive Elements, an art gallery, opened on Lisbon Street a few months ago. The building’s owners, Kevin Morrisette and Gabrielle Russell, live upstairs. They have renovated their historic building into a modern and urban space.

And, there’s more to come. An Auburn business has bought a building on Lisbon Street, and will be moving downtown to open soon. Why? Because the owners want to be where the buzz is.

And that’s just the new stuff. How about Guthries, one of the best venues for live music in the state? Baxter Brewing? Bates College? The Public Theatre? The Franco-American Heritage Center? Fish Bones, Mother India, Pedro O’Hara’s, Fuel and Marche? Downtown? Yep, and there are too many more to list.

“Filthy” does not come to my mind when thinking of our downtown. “Exciting,” “dynamic”; not “filthy.”

When asked, “Who are the people you would use to help you as mayor?” Mr. Macdonald said, “I would go to the business people — they know what’s going on. I certainly would not go to the inner city.”

I’m familiar with the inner city; I live here.

Mr. Macdonald would be remiss not to seek the advice of our congressman, one of our senators and the business people who work in the inner city. Lawyers, accountants, bankers and dynamic small business people. Even City Hall is in the inner city.

Mr. Macdonald said that Lewiston is “made fun of” by people south of us because downtown “is a stigma on Lewiston.” That is not what they write.

The Portland Press Herald, in a recent review of Fuel, reported “Fuel ... brings customer traffic to the small art galleries, converted mill spaces, immigrant-owned shops and long-established businesses in an evolving downtown.”

Maine Magazine, in the December issue, published a full, five-page spread called “48 Hours in Lewiston-Auburn.” Most every attraction in the piece was in the downtown area.

The article goes on to address downtown as a magnet for the entire community, “the same could be said for Maine’s Twin Cities. The historic mill towns are transforming into a destination for art and music. A number of restaurants are attracting buzz, and a new brewery opened at the Bates Mill.”

Statewide publications from Portland see the growth and investment in downtown Lewiston, but not yet our mayor-elect.

Macdonald was asked: “If there is one thing you would change about Lewiston, what would it be?” The response was: “the downtown.”

Don’t worry Mr. Macdonald, we are way ahead of you.

Eric Agren is the owner of Fuel and Marche restaurants, and a downtown Lewiston resident.

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Spot on

This letter says it all. I hope the mayor buys in and makes it a priority to make our downtown even better. The last thing we need is our own elected officials making us look bad and creating negative attitudes among businesses and investors who might be considering moving here.

Terry Donald's picture

Exactly!

Mr Agren is 100% right, I work in Lewiston on a regular basis, in fact I have worked several time assisting Mr Agren with the improvement projects he is going through on Lisbon St.
Lewiston is one of those towns that can grow on you once you get to know the people who love living there. I've been to each corner of the town, worked for home owners, renters, property managers and business people and I have come across a very diverse group of people that make up a community in the best sense of that word.
I don't live in Lewiston, but it angers me that so many people inside and out of the town latch on to tired old myth and anecdotal evidence to criticize the town, or groups of people living there.
Mr Agren is investing his hard earned money in this town and he's spreading the truth. I'm also spreading the word, Lewiston is a great Maine town, will you help spread the word too readers?

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