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A family jewelry business that’s been in downtown Lewiston for nearly eight decades plans to move 25 miles away to Yarmouth, citing a changing business trend.
Michael Dostie, the third-generation owner and operator of J. Dostie Jewelers, said he’s observed that increased vagrancy in the downtown over the past two years has been discouraging customers from going to his store.
“This has been a difficult decision but one that we have given careful consideration,” he said. “A trend we've been increasingly experiencing for the past decade has accelerated and over the past two years our business has changed dramatically.”
While sale numbers have remained stable, “our foot traffic has never in the history of the company been as low as it has been,” he told Mainebiz.
The business has been in Lewiston since 1947 and at 4 Lisbon St., on the corner of Lisbon and Main streets, since 1964.
The new location is in a leased building at 805 U.S. Route 1, Yarmouth. The space is part of a 6,250-square-foot shopping center built in 2000.
The move is expected to take place in February with an anticipated reopening in April.
The relocation has been underway for well over a year, with contract agreements finalized on Sept. 25.
J. Dostie Jewelers is the most recent of several local businesses to close or relocate out of Lewiston’s city center.
At least three other businesses have closed over the past year, according to the Sun Journal.
In March, Sam’s Italian Foods closed its oldest location at 268 Main St., about a year after the chain of Italian restaurants centered in the Lewiston/Auburn area was sold to Teamshares, a New York-based company that assists small businesses as they transition to employee ownership.
Sam’s maintains 11 other locations in Lewiston, Auburn and elsewhere in Maine, according to its website.
Also in March, the Cowbell Grill and Tap closed its only Lewiston location at 49 Lisbon St., according to the Sun Journal.
Last year, Bedard Pharmacy closed its location at 61 College St.
But Lewiston has also been experiencing a run of commercial development from the downtown to its outskirts — new retail and industrial activity, renovations and repurposing of historic buildings, and new attractions.
On downtown Lisbon Street, that includes Obscura Cafe & Drinkery, which opened last year, and conversions of office buildings to residential units. And the city has improvement projects underway, including housing redevelopment in the downtown’s “Tree Streets” neighborhood.
“While a few businesses have departed, the prevailing trend is that more have and will be setting up store fronts, including two coffee shops, three restaurants, professional offices and housing,” said Lincoln Jeffers, Director of Economic Development for the City of Lewiston. “Undoubtedly, navigating the landscape of a small business these days presents formidable challenges, particularly in an era where services or products are effortlessly accessible through a simple click on a smartphone. Nevertheless, within our city, there exists an array of exceptional resources for businesses from inception to growth.
“For small businesses, the path to success demands not only resilience and unwavering determination but also a robust financial foundation to help navigate through both tangible and intangible hurdles,” said Jeffers. “We extend our best to them.”
J. Dostie’s story began when its founder, Jules Dostie, joined the army in 1943. While enlisting, on his application he noted that one of his hobbies was repairing so-called Baby Ben alarm clocks. The notation prompted his induction into the army’s watch department where he was formally trained as a watchmaker.
After the service, in 1947, Jules began work at Wills & Hicks, a watch shop in Auburn. He soon quit the job, borrowed $400 from relatives and found a small location in downtown Lewiston to start J. Dostie Jewelers.
Operated by Jules and his wife Yvette, the business quickly grew. In 1964, the couple moved into the current location.
In 1977, Jules' son, Daniel began working for his father, starting with jewelry repair and developing his skills over many years as a designer and jewelry technician and becoming a certified gemologist appraiser, the industry’s highest certification, in 1987. He bought the business from his father in 1989.
Daniel’s son Michael began apprenticing under his father in 2003, then took over in 2006. Daniel remains involved in appraisals.
The family has been involved with civic activities. Jules was a Rotarian and Daniel became one, too. Michael has served on several local boards in the arts and business Sectors, was a founding member of the city's art walks, and most recently the founder of Lewiston's downtown business association.
“One thing my grandfather said to my dad and my dad said to me was, ‘Danny, can you believe how fortunate we are? We get to work with the most beautiful things in the entire world every day,’” Dostie recalled.
The Yarmouth location was most recently a tanning salon. Demolition is underway to revamp the space for the jewelry store’s requirements, which includes a showroom and a shop for production work, Dostie said.
Building both components from the ground up offers the opportunity to lay out the space efficiently.
The Lewiston location is about 1,800 square feet with an 11-foot ceiling, including the showroom and shop downstairs and a small office upstairs. In the 1980s, it had grown to 13 bench technicians and other employees.
By 2016, the operation was down to a skeleton staff of two. Although the space was restructured to accommodate smaller staff, it wasn’t optimal, said Dostie.
“In starting from scratch with this new space, we have a blank canvas,” he said. “We can lay out our equipment, lay out our shop in a way that’s efficient for our workflow. That’s something I’m looking forward to.”
The Yarmouth space is about 1,400 square feet with a 9 ½-foot ceiling.
“Designing it from the ground up gives us every opportunity to make sure it’s the most efficient and most comfortable,” he said. “The goal is to create a place where people want to be.”
In Yarmouth, he said, he’s also looking forward to having time to return to jewelry design — his first love in the business.
The Lewiston inventory largely depends on outside design and manufacturing vendors, although J. Dostie works with the vendors and purchases gems for the pieces from a stone broker.
“When people come in and look around and say, ‘Did you make this piece?’ I’d love to get back to the point where I can say we made most of it,” Dostie said. “I feel like I just haven’t had the opportunity to explore creatively in the environment we have in Lewiston.”
Dostie declined to cite the investment into the renovations, which are self-financed.
He cited Yarmouth as more centrally located to a majority of the client base and the appeal of a small, quiet town. The location will allow for easier access directly on Route 1, has ample parking, and will be within a 35-minute drive for clients in the Lewiston/Auburn area.
Dostie, who lives less than two miles from the Lewiston location, will be doing that drive himself to continue to run the business.
Still, he said, it was painful to consider the effect the move will have on clients coming from Greater Augusta and beyond.
“I can only do my best to make it worth the extra trip,” he said.
Dostie’s father approved the move.
“This is the best way for my dad's, my own and now my son's company to be able to serve our friends and customers for the next 20 years,” Daniel wrote in a statement.
“With all the pressure of this decision weighing on our family, my brief experiences with the people in Yarmouth have made it clear this is the best place for our future,” Michael Dostie said. “From my very first outreach, staff at the town hall have been incredibly welcoming and helpful as have the numerous property and business owners, and I am just so excited to join the community.”