LEWISTON — Rainbow Bicycle and Fitness, an independent bicycle shop, officially celebrated the grand opening of their new downtown Lewiston location in December 2012 among city officials, friends, and bike enthusiasts.

Established in 1982, owner John Grenier purchased Rainbow Bicycle in 1998 and recently made the transition from the busy outer Center Street corridor in Auburn to the new space in mid-November.

“I think the downtown is still in the early stages of a massive revitalization,” said Grenier. “There’s a huge amount of positive energy here. We wanted to be a leader rather than a follower and the support from the other businesses here along Lisbon Street has made all the difference in our decision.”

The downtown venue located at 97 Lisbon Street has seen a number of businesses throughout the years. Perhaps best known as the Reid and Hughes Department store from 1953 to 1982, Music Works occupied the space until 1989 before moving to Auburn, and costume centers including Drapeau’s Costumes of Maine set up shop until moving from the location in 2007. All occupants have taken advantage of the large, plate glass windows at the front of the store.

“What attracted me to the building was the massive glass frontage,” said Grenier. “Essentially the new store is broken into two sections. The bike side is perfect for bicycle displays and inventory presentation while the café side is great for seating and people watching.”

Grenier said he and manager Jared Buckingham began looking for a potential new location in early 2011 due to a number of unique business opportunities.

“When we started looking at our demographics it was obvious an overwhelming majority of our clients came to the store by vehicle which naturally kind of goes against everything we are trying to promote,” said Grenier. “When this building became available at auction we saw an opportunity to reach a new audience where people could walk or bike in and still take advantage of all the natural beauty of the area including the mills, river, and surrounding neighborhoods.”

Actively involved in promoting all aspects of cycling from local bike rodeos and charity rides to professional-level racing events, Rainbow Bicycle coordinates mechanical support for the Dempsey Challenge, the Trek Across Maine, and Optimist Club Bike Rodeo. Founders of the Maine Cycling Club, Lake Auburn Road Race and many other cycling events in the Central Maine area, they also serve as the primary organizer for Downeast Cyclocross Weekend.

“I think what you see here is a tone being set in the community,” said Chip Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. “Imagine the years of neglect and damage that existed in this space until just recently. As this business continues to expand, what you see here is a commitment and an investment into this community for the long haul.”

Encompassing nearly 5,600 square feet, the new space is large enough to accommodate an extensive inventory of bicycle related products while another 5,600 square feet remains unused on the bottom floor on the back side of the building.

“As you get closer to the river you’ll notice that Lisbon Street is elevated from the surrounding roads,” said Grenier. “For the right tenant that wants to take advantage of the Canal Street frontage, this could be a very cool opportunity because of the additional foot and vehicle traffic especially in advance of the Riverfront Island Master Plan project.”

Recently awarded the 2012 Plan of the Year by the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association, the Riverfront Island Master Plan aims to develop a vision for the Riverfront Island and downtown area in respect to future economic and community development projects.

Grenier said he hopes to either expand services on the ground floor in the future or lease the space to an entrepreneur in need of a jump-start.

“We know what it means to take a chance and we recognize all the people that took a chance on us when we first started,” said Grenier. “Take the café for instance. When we were looking at our options for this location we felt a bike shop and café would be a great draw for the area.”

Called the Local Grind Café, the café is Grenier’s latest addition to an evolving business plan. Featuring free wireless Internet for customers, the space is designed to be comfortable and inviting while featuring ample room for those looking to relax for an extended period of time.

“Our customers tend to support businesses that invest back into their community,” said Grenier. “We recognize that many of our clients have embraced the ‘buy local’ concept. So in addition to supporting local and Maine businesses, we also wanted to set up a venue where they could feel comfortable enough to kick back with their lap top and not feel pressured to rush back out the door.”

Featuring Maine roasted coffee from Wicked Joe’s based out of Brunswick, Grenier highlighted some of the attributes that he hopes separate his café from other area coffee shops.

“One of the unique things we do is what’s known as ‘pour-over coffee.’ That means rather than brewing an entire pot of coffee, we custom brew each individual cup for the customer,” said Grenier.

In addition to coffee, espresso and lattes, the café will sell bagels, scones and muffins along with other light snacks. Future plans call for wraps, soups and sandwiches in the coming months.

Grenier stressed the importance of using local resources, often overlooked by new and existing businesses.

“Gabrielle Russell of Smith Reuter Lull Architects, located just a few doors down from us, was instrumental in the design of our floor plan. It was our intent all along to support our neighbors during this process and we were able to use local builders for all the other renovations,” said Grenier. “Financially, this project cost a lot more than we anticipated. However the city of Lewiston was able to assist us with their façade grant and low-interest rehab loan programs.”

Lincoln Jeffers, economic and community development director for the city of Lewiston, emphasized the increased interest and development activity in downtown properties over the previous 24 months, most notably between Ash Street and Lisbon Street.

“Downtown Lewiston has some great structural bones and I think this is just confirmation as to what we’ve known for a long time,” said Jeffers. “Downtowns are often considered a measure of a community’s vitality, at least perception wise. With the recent surge of housing activity on the upper floors along Lisbon Street, the $9-million investment into the Lofts at Bates Mill, $7.8-million investment into Healey Estates, and a number of other major construction projects already in progress, I think we are in the midst of a massive transformation in the heart of our community.”

Recently certified as a Business-Friendly Community by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Jeffers highlighted the importance of utilizing city resources for area business owners including new loan and grant opportunities that have already resulted in an increase of commercial building upgrades within the downtown.

“When some of these older buildings are opened up, it’s not unusual to run into some hiccups,” said Jeffers. “The City’s low interest loan program combined with the façade improvement, life safety loan, and elevator grant programs can help mitigate those unexpected impacts. Designed to help make business happen again in the downtown, given the roughly $67 million in private sector investment by our local business leaders into the area since 2010, I think it’s safe to say we are headed in the right direction.”

Rainbow Bicycle and Fitness is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. For more information about services or to schedule an appointment, please call 207-784-5533, email [email protected], or visit their website at www.Rainbowbike.com.

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