WATERVILLE — Two downtown enterprises launched by the Waterville Main Street program are spinning off on their own to become independent entities.

Barrels Community Market on Main Street and Common Street Arts on Common Street are slated to become autonomous July 1.

Barrels carries locally grown fruits and vegetables, home-baked goods, fresh cheeses and meats, prepared food and local arts and crafts.

Common Street Arts is both an exhibition gallery and instruction space.

Both Barrels and Common Street Arts were created by the Waterville Main Street Program, with Barrels having been funded with grants and gifts, and Common Street Arts with a $50,000 grant from the Maine Arts Commission. Main Street was the administrator, financial sponsor and overseer of Barrels and Common Street.

Dana F. Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, praised the effort, saying it is similar to business incubators that seed new entities, guide them, help them grow and then watch them go off on their own. Those entities become part of the economy, pay taxes and provide jobs.

“In a word, congratulations,” Connors said Friday. “That’s exactly what you want to happen.”

The move to independence for both Barrels and Common Street Arts is being aided by a recent $45,000 grant to the Main Street program from Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, of Freeport.

“They have a commitment to economic development issues in downtowns,” Mayor Karen Heck said of the foundation.

Sewall also gave Hardy Girls Healthy Women $20,000, and last year $50,000 to the Quarry Road Recreation Area.

Heck several months ago took Sewall officials on a downtown tour that included visits to Barrels, Common Street Arts and Hardy Girls. Main Street was notified about two weeks ago of the Main Street grant.

“Philanthropies want to see their money well-spent and I think it’s a real compliment to Waterville that they think that this is the place where that will happen,” Heck said. “Of course, I’m not surprised, but I’m totally excited.”

David Gulak, who has managed Barrels since it opened in 2009 and was involved in the market’s planning for two years prior to that, said the intention from the beginning was to have the market become self-sustaining and that is what happened. The market now will be a consumer co-op run by a board of directors, and the co-op members have equity in the business.

“I think we truly have created something that can grow and adjust to incrementally reflect the vision, both on the member side and consumers, staff and the board,” Gulak said.

Gulak will no longer be the market’s general manager, but will remain active in both the market and on the board of directors. Melissa Hackett will be the new manager.

Common Street Arts is run by a part-time gallery director, Kate Barnes, and staffed with volunteers, according to Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street, which is the administrator, fiscal sponsor and financial overseer of both Barrels and the art space.

Like Gulak, Olsen said it was always the idea that they would spin off and become their own entities.

“This is really a success story for us,” she said.

Shannon Haines, former Waterville Main Street executive director and current volunteer president of the board of directors for Common Street Arts, said Common Street has filed paperwork with the secretary of state to incorporate as its own nonprofit. Now it is applying for federal nonprofit status, said Haines, who also is executive director of the Maine Film Center.

The City Council recently approved $5,000 in funding for Common Street Arts, which also has received support from Colby College Museum of Art, Maine Film Center and now the Sewall Foundation. The entity gets revenues from art sales, a holiday bazaar, its membership program and fees for classes. Volunteers include Colby College students and those who love the arts, Haines said.

Arts and cultural activities are priorities in cities working to revitalize, she maintains.

“It’s really the heart and soul of the community,” she said.

Heck, meanwhile, noted that Kennebec Valley Community Action Program was notified last week that it will receive an $85,000 planning grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation to help get 80 percent of children reading at grade level by the third grade.

Heck gathered a group of people to meet with Gorman officials, who were very interested in early childhood education, she said. The reading project was the brainchild of Thomas College President Laurie Lachance, she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

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