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October 13, 2017

Bar Harbor business and historic building packaged for unusual sale

Courtesy / Bar Harbor Bank & Trust
Courtesy / Bar Harbor Bank & Trust
Beverly and Peter Bono, owners of the Christmas Spirit Shop in Bar Harbor, are seeking to sell their hand-crafted Christmas ornaments shop and the historic building in which it's housed as a single package.

In an unusual deal, Beverly and Peter Bono — who've operated the Christmas Spirit Shop in the historic Grant Building at 80 Main St. in Bar Harbor since 1995 — are seeking to sell both the turnkey business and real estate as a package, for $1.695 million, to someone who wants to continue to operate the shop in that location.

When they first presented the idea to various real estate brokers, the Bonos were told it couldn't be done.

"I've been working on this for five years, talking with Realtors in town, and they said, 'Just sell the building. You'll never sell the business with the building,'" Peter Bono said.

Then they found Kim Swan at The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty in Bar Harbor.

"She thought of it as a lifestyle business, like a B&B, where a wife and husband can put their hearts and souls into it and enjoy the Maine lifestyle," he continued. "So we're looking for buyers who want to enjoy the Maine lifestyle, maybe coming off corporate careers like we did, or maybe they want an American-made business and maybe take it into a franchise."

"For the people who have been looking for a reason to be able to live and work in Bar Harbor, this is it," Swan said in a press release.

According to the release, the Grant Building dates from 1897 and is located at one of the most strategic retail addresses in Bar Harbor. Comprising three floors and 4,401 square feet, the brick building features retail space, offices, a product photo studio and a third-floor apartment. The property also includes parking for up to seven cars, a rare asset in downtown Bar Harbor. Bono noted the building has interesting architectural details like high ceilings on all three floors, large windows and a walk-in vault in the center of the building.

"It's been a joy to maintain the building," he said.

The magic of 'Christmas'

The Bonos got the idea for the business after Peter was laid off from an executive position in a Florida medical electronics company.

"I made a promise to myself and my wife that I didn't ever want to be laid off again," he said. "We wanted to control our own destiny."

That summer, in 1989, they sat down to hash out potential businesses. Beverly came up with the idea of a shop featuring Christmas ornaments hand-crafted by U.S. artisans.

"We were married Christmas Eve and we love Christmas, and we always shop for Christmas ornaments, but they were all made overseas," she said. "So I said, 'How about an all-American-made Christmas shop?"

She began reaching out to potential artisans, and found immediate interest. At the same time, they decided to set up shop in Maine, which they had visited and loved. They settled on Trenton, a gateway town to Acadia National Park with tons of seasonal traffic, as the perfect place for their new shop.

"We thought Bar Harbor was crazy," Beverly said. "The rents were too expensive. So we thought, 'We'll just catch them when they go in.'"

But traffic whizzed by. Sometimes, drivers stopped in when they left Acadia.

"And they'd say, 'You have a lovely shop, but I just spent all my money in Bar Harbor,'" she recalled. "So we said, 'We've got to check out Bar Harbor.'"

Grant Building proved the perfect shop

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty.
Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty.
Beverly and Peter Bono’s shop in the Grant Building in Bar Harbor features Christmas ornaments handcrafted by U.S. artisans. They’re seeking to sell the business and real estate as a package for $1.695 million.

After renting two small shops in town, they found space in the Grant Building, keeping the Trenton shop at first.

"Peter started selling out of everything and I was twiddling my thumbs," said Beverly.

"The size of the Bar Harbor shop was one-quarter the size of the Trenton shop and did four times the business," said Peter. "I learned quickly that our kind of shop needed foot traffic, not drive-by traffic."

They leased the Grant Building from Bar Harbor Bank & Trust the first two years, then bought it in 1996. The Bonos work with over 100 American artisans from across the U.S. to design ornaments and other Christmas items that evoke Acadia and Bar Harbor, like Cadillac Mountain. Beverly also established a build-your-own ornament workshop.

"You can build your own Maine memory ornament, or your own family ornament, and choose your backgrounds and pieces," Peter said. "All those experiences you had of Acadia or Bar Harbor can be captured in an ornament. Children have the most fun."

With over 10,000 Christmas-themed products, the company has significant online sales as well as retail. The couple declined to cite revenue, but said they make a good living, with room for growth.

The two will continue to operate until they find a buyer.

"Because we have such a unique business, and spent so much time and energy finding and working with these artists, and because I have a manager who's been with us for 25 years, we want this business to continue after us," said Peter. "Our building in downtown Bar Harbor couldn't be in a better location. It's the busiest part of town. I've had three different businesses in town come to me, wanting to buy the building. But I don't want to sell just the building. I want somebody to buy the package. I think there's a couple out there who would make the right fit."

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