LEWISTON — By the supper hour Friday, Lisbon Street and the blocks around it were rocking. There was music everywhere. A cash mob flooded a Park Street business. A Zumba flash mob shook the walls at the Lewiston Public Library.
It was a raucous way to cap a celebration of the new Dempsey Center and the evening was just beginning.
"This," said library Director Richard Speer, "is going to be a fun night."
It began earlier in the day with tours of the new Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing on Lowell Street and hundreds came. All day, people wandered through the halls of the expansive center, looking over the fitness rooms, the resource library, The Healing Tree children's center and everything in between.
Julie Anctil spent most of her time in The Healing Garden. Filled with plants and trees and softly lit, it's a place that's hard to leave.
"It's so pretty," Anctil said. "It's just beautiful. I love it here."
A cancer survivor, she's been in remission for 2½ years. Her walk through the new center was a journey of memories. None of it was here when she went through her treatments, Anctil said. Back then, the Dempsey Center was a relatively cramped space in another part of the city. It was 2,000 square feet compared to the sprawling, 11,000-square-foot space on the fifth floor of the former Knapp Shoe building.
Throughout the day, people flocked to see it. Many were cancer survivors. Some had gone through the painful ordeal with loved ones. A few were there because they used to work in the building many years ago when it was Knapp Shoe.
"It's so unbelievably different," said one man, who worked inside the building when it was filled with cobwebs and shadows and used mainly for storage.
So many people came, they had to assign numerous people to give the tours.
"Oh, my gosh," said tour guide Dani Small. "It's been nonstop all day long."
Small brought group after group through the building, explaining what each room was being used for.
"This is where they can come to do Tai Chi or just to mediate," she said of the health and fitness room.
"Here is where we will take a new patient and hear their story, hear what they need," she said of one of the consultation rooms.
"This is a place for a patient to come and meditate, relax or really just collect his or her thoughts," she said of The Healing Garden.
If the building lacks anything, it's the clinical, stark-white air of a hospital. The building is very warm, with quilts and paintings hung on walls, art produced by the patients. The chairs are elegant and cushioned. The people who run the center want their patients to be comfortable. They've endured enough misery already.
And yet, there was nothing solemn or sad about the tour. Cancer survivors ran into people they knew and they mingled and got caught up. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of hugging.
And then there was Lisbon Street. Late in the day, the Art Walk got under way. This month, it's a part of the Dempsey Challenge weekend so there was extra energy about it. Bands rocked the Bates Mill Atrium along Canal Street. Others jammed on the top floor of the library while soloists played their instruments in a variety of businesses along Lisbon Street.
Just about everyone agreed that the Dempsey Challenge got off the ground in a big way.
Near the end of the tour, Dani Small paused with her group next to a massive window that looked out on the Androscoggin River, the city of Auburn and beyond.
"You can see Streaked Mountain from here," Small said. "That's Buckfield. And that's really cool because that's where Patrick grew up."
Patrick being Patrick Dempsey, of course, the superstar and philanthropist behind it all. He was out and about somewhere, people said, but nobody knew quite where. That was all right, though, because there was plenty to do, at the new center and in the downtown community. By the time it was dark, Lisbon Street was still rocking and it showed no sign of letting up.