NORWAY – Two stores have opened in the Norway Opera House, ending a five-year vacancy in the 1894 showpiece in the downtown business district.

Raven Collections is open at 406 Main St. and features gems from around the world, rocks, mineral specimens, crystals, fossils and jewelry. There are also miniature 18th century metal carriages from China.

Gatherings, at 400 Main St., specializes in antiques, vintage and used furniture, home décor and gifts. It opened in the former Colonial Restaurant space. Three more commercial spaces are available for rent.

Owners of both shops say the beautiful and historical space was the perfect setting for their merchandise.

“I have been looking for a long time,” Gatherings owner Nellie Denison said. “I went in and saw the (tin) ceiling and said sold.”

Darlene Dadian-Gray, owner of Raven Collections and a resident of Oxford, said she heard about the space through a friend who had property managed by Tony Morra of Biscoe Properties. That business manages the leases of the Opera House space. Tony Morro.

Like Denison, when Dadian-Gray first saw it, she knew the space was the right place for her shop. From the LED lighting to the cream-colored tin ceilings and walls and built-in glass hutches, it was a showcase for her merchandise, she said.

Dadian-Gray said the combination of her “something of the earth” merchandise and a beautifully restored historical building was irresistible.

“It all seemed to fit,” she said.

Shoppers have already found the new downtown shops.

Maryanne Bubbico and her 12-year-old daughter Chloe of Minot were shopping Wednesday afternoon when they saw the chandelier inside Gatherings and pulled their car over to investigate.

“I made a U-turn to come here,” she said. “It’s so nice to have something here.”

Contractors have been working since this past September to restore the five, first-floor storefronts. The work was part of a $1 million renovation project by the Norway Opera House Corp.

The three-story brick edifice is the centerpiece of the downtown National Historic District, which was designated in 1988. It was once the center of community activities, but has been vacant since a partial roof collapse in September 2007. The town took it by eminent domain in 2011 due to its unsafe condition and turned it over to the Norway Opera House Corp. last year.

The second and third floors, which include a ballroom and balcony, have been closed for decades.

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