Lewiston, Maine: Full of Optimists and Big Dreamers

Somali girls in a park in Lewiston, Maine.
Somali girls in a park in Lewiston, Maine.
Jack and I arrived in Auburn yesterday and checked into the Hilton Garden Inn. Then we set out to explore this city, which combined with Auburn across the river has about 84,000 residents. The first thing we noticed were some of the biggest old mill buildings we’d ever seen.

These massive structures dwarfed the big mills in Easthampton and were even larger than some that have been rehabbed in Holyoke.   We walked past the Bates Mill that’s now the home of TD Bank’s call center and medical offices. There are also 48 apartments here that we learned were snapped up immediately.  People love living with 14 foot ceilings, copious amount of sunlight, and right in the heart of downtown.

We walked up to Lisbon Street and there we passed a series of halal meat stores and other shops serving the large community of Somalis who have moved here since 2000.  There was a sign for  videotapes of reciting the Koran, a blizzard of colored fabrics to use for head-coverings and men standing around chatting wearing the garb of their homeland.  We would learn much more about this wave that has brought nearly 3000 Africans to this town, when we had beers at Baxter Brewing Co and met Rachel the director of the local history museum.  It’s always been a town of immigrants, in the ’50s the French Canadians battled with the Irish. “If your ball went over to the other side of the street, you didn’t go ant get it back,” said one resident.

We had a busy day walking the streets, meeting people and then an elegant dinner at a French restaurant called Fuel. The name is from owner Eric Agren’s  original goal of making a restaurant that could be converted from inside to outside by opening a garage door .That didn’t work in Maine’s climate but his restaurant is cozy, popular and very good.  Eric, who has a 2nd restaurant is opening a tapas restaurant a few doors down. His Fuel was the start of an influx of higher end businesses, like a bike shop, that have made Lisbon Street grow both up and down.

He showed us some of what is making Lewiston such a popular place to live when he took us upstairs to an apartment he renovated. It’s a massive 5600 square feet, and with 18′ ceilings, a gym, and top of the line appliances. It would easily go for many millions somewhere else. Here there is so much room that anyone who wants to roll up their sleeves could have a gigantic apartment for a small sum.