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April 9, 2019

Saved from ruin, historic waterfront Lubec tavern awaits a buyer

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty In Lubec, an 1840s building at 12 Water St. was extensively renovated and now houses the Water Street Tavern & Inn, a turn-key operation. The property has been on the market for five years, awaiting a buyer.

A historic building in Lubec that was listed for $680,000 has a “turn-key” tenant, central location and a water view — but, five years after its listing, still has no takers.

“It takes the right type of buyer,” listing broker Alyssa Bouthot told Mainebiz. It is listed with the Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty.

The property, at 12 Water St., is viewed as an opportunity to leverage Lubec’s thriving summer economy. “We’ve always had regular interest. We’ve shown it. It’s just a matter of someone who wants to take on the restaurant component in addition to the inn," Bouthot said. "Being seasonal is another factor. Some people are looking for a year-round business, although many prefer the seasonal lifestyle.”

The two-story, 6,700-square-foot building on 0.14 acre was built in 1840. It’s housed a sardine-packing operation, a cat food factory named Fuzzy Wuzzy, and a feed and grain store, among its uses.

In 2007, a multi-year restoration was begun to rescue the building from ruin. Today, it houses a food and lodging business that opened in 2010.

Turn-key operation

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Picture windows offer expansive views of Lubec Narrows.

The restored building now houses the Water Street Tavern & Inn, which has 48 seats in the dining rooms and 10 seats at the bar. A deck overlooking the Lubec Narrows seats 20. There are five lodging accommodations ranging from single guest rooms to a one- and a two-bedroom apartment, all with picture-window views of the water. The building sits on the water at the entrance of the Bay of Fundy. Water Street is Lubec’s primary commercial area.

“The views are stunning,” said Bouthot. “It’s a wonderful place to step back in time and relax and take in the true Maine coast during the summer months.”

The owners, Jim and Judy Heyer, are Florida residents who first discovered Lubec while on vacation in 2001. They bought a cottage, renovated it and began renting it seasonally.

In 2007, they were in Lubec having dinner at Cohill’s, an inn and pub across the street from 12 Water St.

“I was enjoying a great bottle of chardonnay, and Judy, my wife, said, ‘You know that old building with the paint coming off and the varmints running in and out?’” Jim Heyer recalled. “It was a mess. She said, ‘It’s beautiful piece of property sitting there on the ocean. Somebody ought to buy that and fix it up. They could make a gift shop in there.’ At which time, I downed my third glass of chardonnay.”

They approached the building’s owner to see if they could take a look inside.

“He took us through the building. It was just falling apart,” he said. “Parts of the floor were gone. My wife kept saying, ‘Oh my, oh my!’ I said, ‘Oh my god, you can’t even think that way!’”

Two weeks later, they were back in Lubec. At his wife’s urging, Heyer approached the owner again.

“I worked as a national account sales rep for Anheuser-Busch for 25 years. The last thing I had in mind was a huge old building that needed all kinds of repair,” he continued. “But we went over and I asked, ‘Is there any possibility you would consider selling it?’ He said, ‘Make me an offer.’ So I made him an offer. He said, ‘No. I’ve to get more money than that.’ I said, ‘Fine’ — being extremely relieved.”

Two weeks later, the owner called with a counter-offer. Heyer bought the building and hired a local contractor to survey it.

“I said, ‘So what do you think?’” he continued. “Being a man of few words, he reached in his pocket and handed me a pack of matches”  meaning, burn the place.

One step forward, two back

Courtesy / Heyer Family
Judy Heyer saw a wonderful opportunity to renovate 12 Water St. and her husband Jim eventually came around.

Instead, the Heyers embarked on an extensive renovation. It began with lifting the entire building from its crumbling field stone foundation, pulling out the stones, and pouring a concrete foundation and basement that raised the structure 18 inches. The interior was gutted and restored in sections, he said.

“We worked to the country-western tune of one-step-forward, two-steps-back,” he said.

He ended up investing $1.2 million in the restoration.

“I had no idea what it was going to cost me,” he said. But, he said, he wasn’t going to take any shortcuts. By 2010, the job was mostly complete.

Originally, he was thinking of opening a gift shop.

“But people said, ‘You’ve got a beautiful location for a restaurant,” he recalled. “So we opened the Water Street Tavern.”

The business has been a success, he said, due to its downtown location amid Lubec’s summer tourist and summer-resident trade, relaxing atmosphere, and the excellent food produced by their chef.

“We’ve been on the Food Network twice,” he said. “One of the Food Network judges, Simon Majumdar, was on vacation and stayed with us for a night. He said, ‘One of the appetizers we enjoyed immensely was your bacon-wrapped scallops. I know of no one who could have prepared this dish as fine as this one.’”

Heyer noted that the business has built up a sizeable repeat clientele. His staff is Lubec residents who will likely stay on with a new owner, he said.

The Heyers put the property on the market five years ago. In the meantime, they continue to run it seasonally.

“It’s just going to take that special individual,” he said.

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