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August 3, 2022

With a new Presque Isle gift shop, local retail might be rebounding

A group of people hold a sign in front of two large windows of a store, with flower boxes full of red flowers. A large sign reads FLANNEL & BARREL. A woman holds a large pair of scissors to a long ribbon for the store's ribbon cutting. Courtesy / Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce A group of business leaders celebrate the opening of a Flannel & Barrel, a new retail store in Presque Isle.

Aroostook County residents and visitors now have a new place to shop, a not-so-common occurrence in an area many retailers have left over the years.

Flannel & Barrel, which recently opened at 641 Main St. in Presque Isle, offers clothing, accessories, home decorations, gifts and dog treats from around the U.S. and the world. Nearby at 473 Main St., sister shop F&B Couture Boutique showcases attire for special occasions, including weddings, proms and other formal events.

“​Our family is constantly traveling and discovering amazing finds [as well as] wonderfully talented craftsmen from around the corner and halfway across the globe,” the Flannel & Barrel website reads. “We promise to bring it to you in a warm, inviting, comfortable atmosphere with zero pretentiousness.”

The site also connects the 1994 closure of the Loring Air Force Base in the border town of Limestone with “a large shift in [Aroostook County’s] ability to find upscale apparel, furniture, health and beauty items, home decor and sporting goods without traveling hours south to find it.”

LaNiece Sirois, the executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the closure was at one point the main problem.

“We have had an outflux of retail here in Aroostook County, a lot of it was due to Loring,” she said Wednesday, noting there previously had been many "thriving" stores. “Since then, there's been a slow and steady decline in retail.”

However, Sirois thinks that pinning the problem on a nearly three-decade-old air base closure isn’t quite painting the full picture of the current situation.

“I think there's been a lot of [more-recent] factors, as far as the youth leaving or going away to college,” she said, noting that the area is “starting to see very tiny growth.”

Increasingly, more retailers and small businesses are coming back to the area, Sirois suggested, pointing to several new restaurants, coffee shops and a gym either under development or recently opened in central Aroostook County.

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