Wait for it . . . 2018

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There’s no sugarcoating it: 2017 has been a tough year.

Angry politics. Sexual harassment. Sexual assault. California wildfires. Hurricanes. Drugs. Violence. The threat of nuclear war. Net neutrality. More sexual harassment. More sexual assault. More angry politics.

It’s so bad that people are turning to Hallmark Christmas movies in droves. Escapism via fake snow, sugar cookies and kindness. The Washington Post even wrote about the phenomenon. (In the story, someone compared Hallmark movies to the antidepressant Prozac. They weren’t wrong.)

But Hallmark’s honeyed holiday marathon ends with the New Year, which means finding another way to cope with all the . . . stuff. Or hoping that 2018 is far better than its predecessor.

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In that spirit, we’ve gathered 10 things (plus a bonus!) that Lewiston-Auburn area readers can look forward to in 2018. New places to eat. New things to do. New events to go to.

There are far more than 10 great things happening around here next year, surely, but we offer this as a place to start. A kind of kickoff to the New Year.

So grab your 2018 calendar and start looking forward.

‘GRAZI TO GO’ IS A GO

In August, Mary Frances Graziano Richard announced plans to resurrect Graziano’s, her family’s popular Lisbon restaurant, and turn it into a takeout-only spot. 

She now has a location — the old St. Anne’s Church on the corner of Village and Fillion streets in Lisbon — and expects to get bank funding soon. She plans to open in January or February.

“The closer it gets, the more excited I get,” Richard said. “I’m happy that we have a place to start.”

Her plans remain essentially the same as they were in August: Create a takeout-only place with limited hours and a select menu. She’ll offer some dishes all the time (chicken Parmesan, lasagna, meatballs, salads) with menu additions changing every week. 

Richard believes 2018 will be a good year for Grazi To Go. 

“I’m expecting it to be great,” she said.

KRISPY KREME COMETH

Better late than never.

More than a year after Krispy Kreme was originally supposed to open on Center Street in Auburn, it looks like the shop will flip on its “hot now” sign on Jan. 15.

Area doughnut lovers already have many good options, but the Krispy Kreme opening will bring the Southern icon to central Maine for the first time. It would have been the first in all of Maine, but the shop was beset by construction delays, and its opening was postponed time after time after time. A Saco location opened in October, beating Auburn by a few months.

Developer Cort Mendez, from NH Glazed, LLC, said the Auburn shop now needs just a final inspection. 

He said customers can expect free samples and “fun things” for the grand opening.

“We kind of want to make a big deal of it for the first week for sure,” he said.

DROPPING THE PUCK (AND PICKING UP MERCH)

The Twin City Thunder junior hockey team will start playing at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn in early fall 2018. 

Tickets and promotional swag can be yours even sooner than that.

The Twin City Thunder will play in the U.S. Premier Hockey League’s Premier North Division and will be the first junior hockey team to call the Auburn arena home. Team owners, investors and arena and city staff members made the announcement Dec. 1. 

Response in this hockey-loving region was swift.

“The initial support we’ve received, it’s overwhelming and staggering,” said Bill David, director of sales and marketing for the team. “We actually feel quite blessed this holiday season, fielding hundreds of requests for merchandise and for gear and tickets for Christmas gifts. I apologize we didn’t have it ready for Christmas, but we want to do it the right way.”

David said tickets and promotional merchandise — think logo’d hats, T-shirts and other fannish stuff — should be available within weeks. 

The team expects to announce its player signings and coaching staff come late February or so.

“Trust us, we can’t wait to announce,” David said.

CREATING A HISTORICAL TOUR OF L-A

OK, so 2017 wasn’t a bad year for everyone.

In 2017, Museum L-A — with the help of Lewiston, Auburn and others in the community — won a grant from a Canadian youth organization to pay for a young Quebecois to intern at the Lewiston museum.

Starting in April, that intern will spend 12 weeks pulling together the history of Franco-Americans in Lewiston-Auburn as part of an effort to develop a historical tour. Over the summer of 2018, the museum will post the information online and release an audio app that will guide people on a walking tour around the community.

“Between the Gendron Franco Center and Little Canada and us and the Basilica and some of the downtown areas, there’s a lot for us to talk about,” said Museum L-A Executive Director Rachel Desgrosseilliers.

Desgrosseilliers hopes the tour will be the first in a series.

“Down the road, we want to try to do other ethnic group histories and so forth to follow up on some of the immigration exhibits we’ve done,” she said. “We’ve got a huge immigration population. Most of us are immigrants. We all came from someplace else, so we all have a unique story. Unique and yet the same at times.”

An app doesn’t do it for you? The museum would like to develop more of its own walking tours this summer. And Desgrosseilliers hopes to re-start community trolley tours she ran a few years ago. 

“People had really loved that,” she said. “People would say, ‘Wow, I lived here all my life and I never realized how beautiful our community is when you stop and look at it. We go by it every day and take it for granted.'”

B2B THERE . . . FOR A ‘MINI WORLD’S FAIR’

For more than two decades, the annual Business to Business Trade show in Lewiston was the place to see and be seen. 

In 2018, it’ll also be the place to go and learn.

The Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is taking over the B2B  from the Lewiston Auburn Economic Growth Council. The event will be renamed L-A Metro Marketplace. 

The June event will still be a place for local businesses and organizations to promote themselves, but it’ll also be a place where schoolchildren can learn about their community and the public can socialize.

“It’s going to come under this notion of like a mini world’s fair or like a Lewiston-Auburn world’s fair or a L-A metro region world’s fair,” said Beckie Conrad, chamber president.  

Booths will be clustered together in seven pavilions — retail might be one section, for example, health and wellness might be another.

“The way we set it up visually will demonstrate . . .  there’s really this density of real strength in a lot of things in Lewiston-Auburn,” Conrad said.

There will be no shortage of traditional networking, but Conrad also plans to bring in young people to tour the event. It will also be open to the public for some period during the day.

The venue has not yet been chosen, but Conrad has tentatively scheduled the event for June 7.

PIRATES OF THE FRANCONEAN!

Forget dining with knights and kings at the Franco Center’s annual medieval feast. In 2018, you can eat like a pirate. 

Arrr!

The center has run a sword through its annual medieval-themed dinner show in favor of a spirited buccaneer banquet. Like the shows of olde, the new dinner theater will be scripted and performed by locals.

Online, the show is described as “bold, daring, and somewhat confused pirates plunder, pillage and pursue a mysterious treasure.”

Or, more simply: “You eat dinner and you’re entertained by our pirates,” said Michael Koch, who handles marketing, development and production for the center. 

Money raised will go to the Franco Center.

Buccaneer banquet shows will be held May 4 and 5. Tickets will cost $40 each and will go on sale soon.

Can’t wait until May? The Franco Center has a full slate of shows and events planned for 2018, including a Mardi Gras/Valentine’s Day party (Feb. 13), the Early Evening Show with comedian Mike Miclon (Feb. 23) and the third annual adult prom (April 7.)

However, only one is likely to have mead, matey.

WALKING (AND READING) DOWN MEMORY LANE

While Museum L-A will help you hear about city history in 2018, Grow L+A will help you read about it.

The Lewiston-based nonprofit — along with L-A officials, Bates College, Museum L-A and other community groups — will install historical information plaques along the walking trails that run from West Pitch Park in Auburn to Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston. 

“Basically drawing people down to the river and the Great Falls,” said Peter Rubins, treasurer of Grow L+A.

The trail plaques will give information about each location and its history, with the series potentially including information on Native Americans, immigration, L-A in the Industrial Age and other topics. 

The groups will start accepting public input on the signs at the beginning of the year. The plaques are expected to be posted by the end of summer.

Rubins hopes the project will bring special attention to the falls — which he calls “our little Niagara.”

“It’s the reason Lewiston-Auburn exists,” he said.

GET READY FOR SOME KICKBALL

Your inner 10-year-old is about to be very happy.  

UpLift LA is planning a kickball tournament this spring.

The one-day event will be held in late April or early May at the Ingersoll Arena in Auburn. Players may be children at heart but not, you know, actual children. This kickball event will be open to adults only.     

Preregistration will be required and there will likely be a nominal fee. Uplift will release details around early February. Check out its website or the chamber’s event page for more information. 

FUTURE ANIMAL MUSEUM TAKING ROOT IN L-A?

For years, Drew Desjardins has toted a menagerie from show to show. Lizards. Turtles. Snakes. Birds. Bugs. 

Soon, he’ll have to tote a little less. And you can see his critters a little more.

In December, Desjardins — the Drew part of Mr. Drew and his Animals Too — announced plans to move most of his rescued exotic pets out of his house and into a permanent space in Lewiston, in the Pepperell Mill on the corner of Adams Avenue and Lisbon Street. The site will be both a home for the critters and an educational center for small groups. 

By the last week in December, Desjardins had raised more than $4,000 to help pay for animal enclosures and rent. He’ll soon recruit some volunteers to help with construction, electrical work and painting. He hopes to have a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife inspection done in February.

The animals could move in by March.

Desjardins will continue to take his animals to birthday parties and community events. For the first time, though, people will be able to go to the animals.

Desjardins envisions a small educational center where kids and adults can learn about the environment, conservation and animal welfare. And maybe someday something bigger.

“I want the place I am setting up to be a place of fascination and wonder for all ages, a place where learning is fun!” he wrote in a recent Facebook post on his fundraising page. “I want this to eventually grow into the family museum that Lewiston can be proud of. A place where people from Portland, Augusta, Bangor and beyond will say, ‘Let’s go to that museum in Lewiston.'”

CHILDREN’S MUSEUM *IS* COMING TO WILTON

People have been trying for years to get a children’s museum in Wilton.

It looks like it’ll happen in 2018.

Located at 561 Main St., the Western Maine Play Museum will feature about a dozen theme rooms over 5,000 square feet, with hands-on exhibits and play areas for kids from infancy to about fifth grade.

“There’s a lot of, ‘This is the nature room, this is the magnet room.’ Which was, in part, challenging because we couldn’t do very big-scale things. But then it also made it very easy to go, ‘OK, this is like what’s possible in this space. How can we get the most fun, amazing things in a 12-by-12 room,'” said Angela McLeod, founder and board president.

The space is being renovated now. It is expected to open its doors late summer.

The museum started as a grassroots effort by community members five years ago. It’s taken dozens of volunteers to pull it together.

Once open, it will be one of only a handful of children’s museums in Maine.

“A lot of our local kids cannot make it to Portland or Bangor,” McLeod said. “There’s one in Augusta, which is an hour away from us, but that’s a very small one and they’re looking to move in 2019 to Waterville.”

After years of waiting in Wilton, 2018 could be a good year.

“It’s been heartening to see how much support has gone into this,” McLeod said. “I hope when children come and visit us, they absolutely get the sense they’re valued and the community cares.”

BONUS ITEM: DEMPSEY CHALLENGE TURNS 10!

In 2018, the Dempsey Challenge will celebrate 10 years raising money for the Dempsey Center. Organizers of the community’s biggest fundraising event — created and energized annually by actor and Buckfield native Patrick Dempsey — can’t yet detail how they’ll mark the milestone.

However, one change they could talk about: new ride routes for the many cyclists who take part in the event.

Organizers are still working on the details — like where exactly those routes will go now — but they expect to have them set in the coming months. Check out the Dempsey Challenge’s website (under “challenge information”) for more information.

The routes haven’t changed since the fundraiser started in 2009.

“We wanted to switch it up and give people something fresh to look forward to,” said spokeswoman Dani Campbell.

ltice@sunjournal.com

The Franco Center pirate dinner theater is one thing to look forward to in 2018. Players are left to right: Tony Morin as Steve, Jay Barrett as Low-tide Jones, Dan Kane as The Pinch, Emily Flynn as One-eye Ruby, Heather Marichal as Lady Elizabeth and Sean Wallace as Captain Broadside.

Emily Flynn as One-eye Ruby, one of the pirates in the Franco Center’s pirate dinner theater.

Pirates will invade Lewiston in 2018 during the Franco Center’s Buccaneer Banquet. Players are left to right: Emily Flynn as One-eye Ruby, Dan Kane as The Pinch and Heather Marichal as Lady Elizabeth

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