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The coronavirus pandemic transformed life as we know it. Between 2020 and 2021, schools closed, people were confined to their homes, small towns were left wondering how they would make it without the help of the tourist season, and main streets were quiet without the usual hustle and bustle of weekday life.
For the town of Castine, on the Blue Hill Peninsula, the shutdown seemed especially hard. The two life lines for the economy — summer visitors and students from the Maine Maritime Academy — were gone. Some businesses that intended to close temporarily eventually closed for good.
But by 2022, the town started to see signs of life. Two mainstays in town had new owners — giving the town a new outlook.
“Dan Leader told me that Castine was really in trouble restaurant-wise. They weren’t going to have any restaurants in 2022,” says Max Katzenberg, who took over ownership of Dennett’s Wharf, a longtime waterside restaurant that had been closed down in recent years.
He sprang to action, working with a team to get the restaurant open for the early summer.
At the same time, a couple acquired the Pentagoet Inn, one of two inns on Main Street in Castine.
“When Dennett’s reopened this year after a few years of false starts, we felt the impact in very positive ways,” says Johanna Barrett, owner of the Compass Rose Books on Main Street.
“People came to town to eat there, and on their way down, they stopped at the bookstore, or they stopped by after a great meal for an espresso and a piece of chocolate cake. So, cooperative competition is a good thing, diversity in a small business community, and a willingness to work together builds more resilient economies, and makes a small town like ours a destination.”
Castine, a coastal town in Hancock County, is picturesque, and its residents have ensured to keep it so for centuries. The town is steeped in history that predates the American Revolution and is considered one of the oldest towns in New England. Castine is home to Maine Maritime Academy, Dyce Head Lighthouse, a host of historic sites and homes and a scenic waterfront.
Barrett has lived in the area for over four years and is also one of three women-owned businesses in town. Barrett had always dreamed of operating her own bookstore since her childhood. In 2018 she acquired the Compass Rose Books, and her dream became a reality.
Castine locals got busy during the pandemic. The community rallied together to support the local businesses that were able to make it through the pandemic.
According to Barrett, everyone remembered that they’d always meant to read “Moby-Dick” or “The Decameron.” The bookstore began doing a lot of porch drop-offs and mailed many books.
After two awful years, a glimmer of hope was brought to the town when two legacy businesses reopened. The charming midcoast spot which offers cozy inns and beautiful views has welcomed a new generation of business owners to the area.
“In a small town like Castine, every business feels the impact when another business closes or shifts somehow,” says Barrett.
“For example,” she says, “I added a merchandising refrigerator to my store so we could sell sandwiches and prepared foods this past year. I made that choice because a much-loved bakehouse closed and has not yet reopened. Limited food options present a challenge — and an opportunity — for every remaining business in town, but there are risks and costs associated with changes a very small business makes to its business model. For us, it’s been great thus far — we work with local chefs and bakers, we source from local farms, and we have been able to absorb the added costs of more food service.”
Dennett’s Wharf, at 15 Sea St., had been closed since 2016. The restaurant reopened under new stewardship from an award-winning chef, restaurateur and hospitality team: Katzenberg, who had moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Ingrid Paronich and Chef Taylor Hester. They reopened the restaurant on June 16, in time for the summer rush.
Dennett’s Wharf was originally a beacon for boaters, but has operated for much of the last 25 years as a restaurant, albeit with several ownership changes and periods of closure in recent years.
The 128-year-old Pentagoet Inn & Wine Bar on Main Street is the coastal town’s oldest summer inn. The midcoast Maine bed and breakfast was built in 1894. It has a prominent three-story turret, gables, an adjoining 18th-century house, and a charming wraparound porch.
In the summer, a New York couple, Matt Powell and George Trinovitch, alongside Monica Powell as a financial advisor, took ownership this past spring. Powell and Trinovitch bought the Pentagoet Inn & Wine Bar at 26 Main St. from Julie Van de Graaf and Jack Burke, who owned the business for 22 years.
Powell comes from a background in high end restaurant hospitality and marketing, and Trinovitch has worked in the interior design and restoration industry for many years.
The Castine community has been credited with not only welcoming the new business owners but helping their projects become a reality this summer.
Katzenberg credited the local community for coming together to help the project, including providing housing and working capital. The community showed excitement to see the restaurant open with the three new partners.
The project included workflow improvements, refurbishing a deck, and building a new service area.
Powell and Trinovitch say that on the second day there were at least 10 people that came in wanting to introduce themselves.
“We had people dropping off bottles of gin, champagne and casseroles, just welcoming us to the neighborhood. That welcome attitude has only continued throughout the entire season,” says Powell.
“This is such a network that we needed because we are so social that we knew we would miss our friend group back in the city, and so to have a new one blossoming here in Castine is so wonderful,” he says.
If you’re wondering what the future holds for the new Castine business owners, we can only say time will tell. Castine had the right people come in at the right time, which helped save the 2022 summer tourist season.
“The new energy in Castine is palpable the minute you arrive in town,” says Kathleen Pierce, director of member experience for HospitalityMaine. “A handful of young owners are breathing new life into classic inns such as the Pentagoet, which is a magical, deluxe hideaway blocks from the harbor. Run by a couple of ex-New Yorkers with a flair for the dramatic, this inn is receiving the attention so many vintage properties need to stay vital and meet the needs of today’s traveler. The area, near Deer Isle on stunning Penobscot Bay, has always been a draw for the boating set. Now this summer Castine is drawing people for its big city hospitality at the new Dennett’s Wharf.”