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GORHAM — The Station Square mixed-use development is hard to miss in Gorham’s village. While it’s on Railroad Avenue, tucked behind the Hannaford supermarket, its clock tower rises above the surrounding buildings.
But it was a much smaller project in 2015 by Gorham-based Great Falls Construction, Station Square’s developer, that started the village on a development renaissance. The tear-down of a long-vacant Mobile station and construction of a four-unit retail building at 109 Main St.
“It was abandoned, boarded up, dilapidated,” said Kathy Garrard, of the Gorham Village Alliance, said of the gas station.
The building was on a weedy lot, a 0.75-acre eyesore surrounded by chicken wire. The location, on Main Street at the intersection of Mechanic Street and New Portland Road, put it square in the village’s eastern gateway.
Loren Goodrich, who owned a Subway franchise in town, had bought property several years ago with the intention of locating the sandwich shop there, but traffic access and other issues related to the property made development difficult.
Jon Smith, president of Great Falls, bought the station in 2015, and worked out an agreement for some property owned by the neighboring Hannaford supermarket that helped solve the redevelopment and traffic issues.
Now the building is an attractive retail space that houses Subway, in space Goodrich leases in the 6,400-square-foot building, as well as Aroma Joe’s coffee shop, NailXperts and 9 Round Fitness.
“It changed everything,” said Garrard as she, Dede Perkins and David Willis, also of the Gorham Village Alliance, gathered at Aroma Joe’s recently to talk about Gorham village’s recent development boom and what they hope will happen in the future.
“When they changed that lot, I think a lot of pent-up energy was released,” said Perkins.
Also in 2015, MK Kitchen opened in a large brick building at the intersection of School and Main streets, the village’s main crossroads.
The restaurant, owned by Lisa and Mitch Kaldrovich, “starting bringing a lot of attention to the village and interest in the village,” Garrard said.
Since then, several businesses have opened or moved into renovated buildings in the village area, which comprises several blocks centered around the Main and School street intersection.
The latest news is that nationally recognized textile designer Erin Flett, who has a studio in the Dana Warp Mill in neighboring Westbrook, is moving to 2 Main St., also owned by Great Falls.
Jon and and his wife, Cindy Smith, who is vice president of Great Falls, “have done a lot of development here,” said Garrard. “They’re an amazing force.”
A block from 109 Main St., on in their office on Mechanic Street, the Smiths are more modest about their accomplishments.
When asked how many properties they own in town, they have to think about it.
“I’m not sure. 11? 12?” Jon asks Cindy as their dog, Copper, chomps a chew toy nearby.
“Maybe 13,” she says.
Later in the conversation, he and Cindy agree it’s 15.
“The numbers aren’t important,” Jon said. “We enjoy working with the people.” He said they also enjoy working with businesses, and while some of their property is residential, most of their village property is commercial space.
Great Falls is a construction and management firm that employees just over 40 people, and manages much of the property it builds.
Their first Gorham purchase was the sprawling office building that houses their offices, which they bought in 2007, and much of which is rented out to commercial tenants
The Smiths are both Gorham natives and, while they have some projects outside of town, their development hearts are in Gorham.
“It’s fun to change Main Street in a positive way,” Cindy said.
Their biggest project is right outside their office window — the 70,000-square-foot mixed-use Station Square building, which will open this year.
The building will have 33 market-rate apartments, and on the top floor, Grand Central Wine Bar, owned by Karen Nason.
The ground floor will have a bowling alley, restaurant and bar, owned by Ben Smith, Jon’s brother.
Chalmers Insurance is consolidating its Gorham offices in the building, and there is also about 3,500 square feet of office space in two units still available.
The building, designed by Mike Richman and Chris Bakkila of Custom Concepts, of Scarborough, harkens back to the railroad yard and station that were once on the property. Cindy Smith came up with the name as a nod to the property’s history.
The Smiths said the mixed-use aspect is important to the village’s development. A neighboring 10,000-square-foot Great Falls building on the three-acre Station Square lot houses a music school and fitness center.
“When we were looking at what we wanted to do, we definitely knew mixed use was needed in the village, community space was needed and we needed people,” Jon Smith said. “It’s not a village without activity.”
Great Falls also owns 2 Main St., at the village’s main commercial crossroads, which will soon house Flett’s textile design company in 2,400 square feet on two floors. The building, built in the 1800s, was originally a dry goods store.
Flett said the space will include retail in the front, include shipping in the back on the ground floor. The second floor will be the manufacturing area, which includes mostly silk-screen and stitching.
Flett, who lives in Gorham and has two daughters, began the business in her Gorham home before moving to the fourth floor of Westbrook's Dana Warp Mill in 2013.
The new Gorham space will give her an on-street retail presence she didn’t have in Westbrook. She said she’s excited about the retail space, where she can showcase her goods.
Jon Smith said the 2 Main St. space works well for what Flett does.
“The storefront is right off Main Street,” he said. What she sells is visually attractive, he said, which will be eye-catching in the building's large windows.
“Some of what she does requires big space,” which the second floor has.
The building also houses Goodfellas Barber Shop in space Cindy Smith said has historically been a barber shop.
Willis, of the Gorham Village Association, said the barber shop is the kind of active business that helps the retail community.
“There are four chairs and they're never empty,” he said.
“We’ve been fortunate, there’s been a lot of investment in downtown,” Garrard said.
Just up from the intersection with Main Street is the former Odd Fellows hall, at 34 School St. The building was renovated by Great Falls and houses the Gorham Community Arts Center.
Other recent business openings or relocation of existing ones to new space within the village are Carter’s Green Market, 18 Elm St., owned by Doug and Holly Carter; Party Time Rentals, 25 Elm St,, owned by Lisa Allen; Hops & Vine Craft Beer & Wine, 102 Main St., owned by Denis, Andre, Danyel and Jennifer Albert.
One village mainstay, Sebago Brewery, next door to Station Square, has been in the historic former railroad station for 18 years.
Sebago opened a 30,000-square-foot brewery and tasting room outside of downtown on Route 25, east of the village, a year ago, and Kai Adams, vice president and cofounder, said at the time the top question he was asked was whether Sebago’s village pub was going to close.
Adams said he never considered it. "It does really well and it's a community hub,” he said. “This town is a great place to do business.”
The brew pub has been a village fixture for a long time, but the recession was tough on other businesses, Willis said. “In 2008, 2009, 2010 there were a lot of vacancies."
He said, though, there are also businesses that, like Sebago, could have moved but chose to stay.
The members of the Gorham Village Alliance, which formed in 2017, say that the town’s reputation as a great place to do business is growing since the rough years of the recession and they are working to make it a place where people spend more time shopping, eating and hanging out.
The alliance is in its second year as an affiliate member of the Maine Downtown Center Affiliate Program, and is leading a community effort to address infrastructure and other needs that will help make the village more attractive, walkable and help fill empty storefronts.
The town’s main streets are also U.S. Route 202 and Route 25, so there are a lot of people driving through.
“We want them to stop and stay,” said Perkins.
A March 11 community meeting on what people would like to see happen in the village is planned at Gorham Middle School.
Perkins said that the infrastructure is important — people remember when there were more trees lining the streets and it was a “prettier place.”
“People want to be able to walk around, have a cup of coffee, bring their kids with their bikes,” she said.
Willis said the town is looking at similar areas that have had success with redevelopment, one of the benefits of joining the downtown affiliate program.
“We can say, ‘Here’s what worked, here’s what probably wouldn’t,’” he said.
The village association is also doing things that show appreciation for businesses that are there and to make a community connection.
Last Christmas, for instance, the association distributed wreaths for businesses to display. Businesses also held a welcome back for University of Southern Maine students — the college’s Gorham campus is a block from Main Street.
Willis said, though, there’s room for more. “One of the things we’d like to do is raise the bar.”
Jon Smith said there are things that people can’t buy online, and businesses like those are critical for a village community.
“You can’t outsource a haircut, you can’t get one on Amazon,” he said. He cited the fitness center and the music school as things that bring people downtown.
People may be a regular of one business, and come for that, Cindy Smith said, but then they start staying for the other offerings.
She said they’re already seeing the excitement that comes with being in an active village from some of the tenants who’ve signed up for the apartments at Station Square.
“They want to be in this environment,” she said. "We're excited, too."