LEWISTON — When so many other shops left lower Lisbon Street, Dube Vacation Center lingered in its corner storefront.
The shop outlasted the closure of the mills, the migration to malls, recessions and the travel scares that followed 9/11.
But when it became too tough for folks to park nearby, owner Paul Dube figured he had no choice. Some longtime customers refused to visit any more, he said.
“It’s sad,” said Dube, sitting at a table in his new office with its new carpet smell. “After 46 years, it was time to move.”
Last month, Dube opened his office at 250 Center St. Free parking spaces surround the office on one end of a strip mall.
It seems far away from the place where he thrived for so long.
Dube started the travel business in a corner of his dad’s Main Street insurance agency in 1962. But few people came.
Hoping to find his customers, he moved to retail space inside the former DeWitt Hotel at the corner of Park and Pine streets (where the Sun Journal now stands). Then, the building was torn down.
That’s when he moved to the corner of Chestnut and Lisbon streets. The location was a hub in the then-thriving downtown.
In the mid-1960s, upscale shops seemed to fill every window. There were several jewelry stores. Lamey Wellehan filled its art deco storefront. High-end clothing stores such as Benoit’s, Leblanc’s and Ward Bros were popular.
The sidewalks were busy, Dube said. In 1967, he bought the building at 263 Lisbon St.
“People were downtown actually shopping,” he said. “Monday night was a big shopping night. So was Friday. And we were open all day on Saturday. Everyone was.”
Then, the mills closed.
Some businesses closed too. Many moved. Dube feels like the last to leave, though he opened shops in Augusta and Scarborough.
Of the shops along lower Lisbon Street, only Androscoggin Bank has been there longer, he said.
“I guess we should have left 10 years ago,” he said.
In the late 1990s, online travel took a bite. The months that followed 9/11 were tough. And 2009’s recession left many people at home for their vacations.
“It was a tough year,” he said. He was forced to cut two jobs, including a receptionist in Lewiston.
He is hopeful that the business will bounce back.
Already, old customers who had vowed to stay away have been coming back. And every day or two, somebody new pops in.
“I don’t even have my sign up, yet,” he said.