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Updated: June 20, 2023

Brunswick handbag maker takes storefront lease in Old Port’s Boyd block

old brick building on a corner Courtesy / Malone Commercial Brokers A Brunswick handbag maker will take space formerly occupied by Starbucks at 178 Middle St. in the Old Port.

Rough & Tumble, a custom handbag maker in Brunswick that’s gained the attention of actor Allison Janney, signed a seven-year lease on 2,126 square feet of storefront space at 178 Middle St. in Portland’s Old Port neighborhood.

The lease was brokered by Pete Harrington of Malone Commercial Brokers and the store is scheduled to open this fall. 

The space is on the ground floor of the Boyd Block, which East Brown Cow acquired in 2021. The Boyd Block was built in 1867.

Established in 2008, Rough & Tumble designs and manufactures leather and waxed canvas handbags. Products are sold nationally in partnership with Garnet Hill and Sundance Catalog. Leathers are sourced primarily from France and Italy. 

The location at 178 Middle St. will be the company’s flagship store. The space was vacated by Starbucks last year.

The retailer joins others that have landed in the neighborhood in the past year, including Bella Funk, Madewell, Anthropologie, Athleta, Urban Outfitters and West Elm. 

colorful billboards
Courtesy / Rough & Tumble
Rough & Tumble was featured on a Times Square billboard for a short time in 2020.

The location features high levels of foot traffic. The company plans to use the new location as a base from which to launch partnerships with other Maine makers, designers and artists, according to a news release. 

Rough & Tumble is owned by Natasha Durham, who studied at the Maine College of Art in Portland and spent 17 years in the food industry, owning three restaurants in Portland.

She started Rough & Tumble in 2008 in her home after creating a handbag for herself, according to the company’s website.

She sold her first two bags on Etsy overnight in 2009.

leather handbag
Courtesy / Rough & Tumble
A City Safari handbag.

In 2013, Durham moved out of her home to a storefront in Norway and hired her first employee. Two years later, she established a flagship store in Portland. 

In 2017, she expanded to a 32,000-square-foot space in the Fort Andross mill, a revamped business center at 14 Maine St. in Brunswick, with almost 40 employees.

Durham taught herself how to work with leather and now sources Italian leathers and designs textiles. 

In 2020, the handbag maker was featured for a week on a 4,000-square-foot billboard in New York City’s Times Square and on the Disney building at 1540 Broadway. Actor Allison Janney was spotted wearing one of the company’s handbags, according to separate news releases.

Standard wares have names such as Original City Safari and Hobo Pack. 

It’s expected the Old Port location will provide a platform for one-of-a-kind limited editions and a testing ground for new designs and new materials. For a decade, the website has offered a “design your own” customization page, through which customers have access to thousands of design and material combinations. The design option will be available in the new storefront, Durham said. 

East Brown Cow acquired 178 Middle St., known as the Boyd Block, in 2021. The first floor includes two retail spaces undergoing renovations with scheduled delivery of those spaces to Rough & Tumble and Bangor Savings Bank this fall. 

The upper floors were previously underutilized office space and have been undergoing renovations as one- and two- bedroom short- and long-stay residential units, which East Brown Cow calls “urban homes" and has named the Docent’s Collection, with the opening expected to be winter 2024. Other Urban Homes are 115 Middle St., 121 Middle St. and 184 Middle St., also expected to open in winter 2024.

“Rough & Tumble is an exciting addition to the retail corridor that we have been working to develop along Middle Street,” said East Brown Cow President and CEO Tim Soley. 

East Brown Cow and its affiliates comprise a real estate management, investment and development firm based in the historic Old Port district of Portland. Since it was established over 30 years ago, East Brown Cow’s portfolio has grown to more than 20 assets in greater Portland, including over 1 million square feet of mixed-use office, retail, garage and hospitality assets

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