I think Lubec is the most beautiful place in Maine, sitting right on the ocean, those speedy Quoddy tides whipping through the strait between Lubec and Canada’s Campobello Island. It is the easternmost town in our state, a place that should be much more prosperous than it is today.
Linda and I spent a relaxing and restorative week there recently, in a cottage owned by Wilton resident Catherine Mettey, situated just a quarter-mile from where my Mom grew up. Two miles away sits West Quoddy Head Light where my great-grandfather Ephram Johnson was the keeper from 1899 to 1931. I am anchored here.
And that’s probably why I’ve written a lot about Lubec. It is featured, along with its neighbor Campobello, in the travel book Linda and I have written that will be published by Islandport Press in April. This is a great place to vacation.
Unfortunately, it is not a great place to locate a business or make a living. When my grandmother Edith Searles was packing sardines here, Water Street was full of prosperous businesses, including a large department store. Every one of those stores is gone now, and the packing plant is a museum.
Nary a restaurant can stay open all winter, the high school closed several years ago, and even the nursing home closed this year. But some people here are resilient, refusing to give up on this beautiful place. Several exciting local and regional initiatives are underway, and visiting tourists keep the place busy in the summer months. Some folks from away have even purchased houses and cottages here, which they use only in the summer. That has kept real estate prices high. My Uncle Harry’s old Victorian house is priced at $385,000, a price that would have astonished him.
Four stories give me hope for the townspeople. Jim Heyer and his wife own the Waterfront Tavern, one of our favorite restaurants. This year the Tavern has a new chef, Nadine Pinto, who was vacationing here with her partner, pastry chef Brad Ipson, both of whom worked in Washington, D.C., when they were spotted by the Heyers walking by the restaurant.
They got talking and Jim and his wife invited them to a party they were hosting that included a leg of lamb donated by their pastor. Nadine ended up cooking that leg of lamb and long story short, she and Brad abandoned their jobs in Washington, D.C., and are now cooking in Lubec.
Monica’s Chocolates, owned by a woman from Peru, employs about two dozen local people, gets as many as 400 customers in her store each day, and also sells lots of her luscious chocolates online.
The Summer Keys, a summer-long gathering of musicians from all over the world, has expanded to include writing, photography and other artistry. Their Wednesday night free concerts are always packed, and something we look forward to.
Gale White has opened a new microbrewery on Water Street. After growing up in upstate New York and living 20 years in Texas, he got tired of the corporate rat race and left his well-paying job to move to Maine, where he’d vacationed. He got to Bar Harbor first, found it much too crowded, and kept driving until he reached the end of the road in Lubec.
Gale purchased the coffee shop on Water Street three years ago, then purchased a building last May and opened up his microbrewery. He’s already had to double his brewing capacity.
With a smile on his face, he told me, “The community has embraced me.” They brought him furniture, and paintings and photographs for the walls. One old timer even gave him the bar backer, complete with a large mirror, that was behind the soda fountain at the old Water Street pharmacy. The first week he had it up, a woman gushed, “Oh, that’s where my husband proposed to me.”
We visited the Historical Society museum, a fascinating place that includes information and photos of some of my relatives. But it made me kind of sad, seeing photos of that bustling business district I remember so well. Every year we visit now, one or two more businesses have closed. But folks like Gale, Monica, the Heyers and Frank, a southerner who married a Lubec woman and is now the chef in another popular restaurant, Frank’s Dockside, give me hope.
We met a “summer person” working in the West Quoddy Gift Shop who told us she and her husband had finally decided to build a house and live in Lubec permanently. Great decision.
Gale intends to keep his brewery and coffee shop open all winter — telling us that the local folks often thank him for doing so. Business is not exactly brisk in the winter, but he’s committed to his new community, and I wish him — and all our friends in Lubec — well.
It only seems fair and right that a place this beautiful should be able to sustain a year-round community.