SKOWHEGAN — The executive director at Main Street Skowhegan points to a new business at the old Masonic lodge on Water Street as an example of success achieved by the nonprofit organization since its founding 10 years ago.

“When entrepreneur Katie Quinn contacted us about kitchen space to produce her Ass Over Teakettle Bloody Mary Mix, we brokered a rental arrangement with the Masons to use their space,” director Dugan Murphy said. “Katie’s business has been fast growing since she’s been downtown.”

The new arrangement also benefited the Masons by creating a rental revenue stream and by increasing their exposure in the community, according to Murphy. The Masons since have hosted community events such as the Rotary Club’s beer, wine and food tasting event in March and the mother ship of Main Street programs, an all-day conference put on by the Maine Downtown Center, in June.

Main Street Skowhegan employs two staff members and manages more than four hundred volunteers in organizing annual events, arts projects, garden improvements, building rehabilitation, small business support programs and other downtown projects.

Now, as Main Street Skowhegan looks to 2015 and the 10th anniversary of its founding as a nationally designated Main Street community, Murphy said the successes greatly outnumber the stumbling blocks seen during the early years. Murphy, who was hired in 2013, is the fifth Main Street director over the past decade.

The organization nearly lost its designation as a Main Street community in 2009 because of turnovers in leadership.

The mission of the Main Street program is to improve and maintain the downtown area as the heart of Skowhegan, while preserving its small-town charm and historicity, Murphy said.

“Some of the bigger accomplishments of Main Street over the 10 years are some of the more visible physical improvements, like the new lamp posts, the crosswalks, the sidewalks, the gardening, the street trees and the facade programs we did for 32 businesses in 2006 and 2010,” Murphy said. “Since I’ve been on board, I’m perhaps most proud of getting that connection with Katie Quinn with her bloody Mary mix and the Skowhegan Masons, providing space for a young entrepreneur. And of course I’m pretty proud of getting the Skowhegan Indian sculpture renovation going last year and finishing off the fundraising for that with the Chamber of Commerce.”

The Skowhegan Masons have been meeting in their downtown lodge for almost 100 years and a lot has changed in that time, according to Murphy.

Though membership has decreased and their building has aged, the fraternal group is on the rebound thanks to the efforts of Main Street Skowhegan initiated by Murphy, said lodge member Frank Bolduc in a statement.

“If you asked me three years ago about the lodge, I would have said we’d be closed down by now,” Bolduc said. “Fortunately we got a call from Dugan one day.”

Skowhegan is one of only 10 such Main Street towns in the state. It operates under the direction of the nonprofit Maine Development Foundation’s Downtown Center. The mission of the Maine Downtown Center is to foster downtown revitalization that is dynamic and community-based and results in economic development, business growth, job creation, housing revitalization, historic preservation and cultural enhancement, according to its website.

More than 120 individuals, 16 service organizations and 80 businesses and nonprofits have donated more than 28,334 hours since 2005 supporting the efforts to revitalize Skowhegan’s downtown. The organization is run by an 11-member volunteer board of directors and other volunteers working on various committees and projects, according to Murphy. The annual Main Street Skowhegan budget is $70,000.

Fundraising is underway to raise $10,000 for the program by the end of the year.

Murphy calls the first 10 years of Main Street Skowhegan the “Decade of Development.”

“Anyone who’s been around since 2005 knows that Main Street has a lot to celebrate,” said Main Street board president Matt DuBois, who also is co-owner of two downtown businesses, The Bankery and Skowhegan Fleuriste. “The folks who served as staff, board members and volunteers have laid a solid framework and made a lot of headway in organizing effort and resources, promoting downtown, improving the buildings in the district and strengthening our economic assets.”

Jennifer Olsen, who served as director for Main Street Skowhegan before taking over the director’s job at Waterville Main Street in 2012, said she still lives in Skowhegan and has seen the accomplishments in the downtown area firsthand.

“Living and working in four different communities throughout Maine, I really believe in the Main Street model to help communities to redesign themselves for the future,” she said. “My joy is to walk downtown and see how the improvements that were made from the walking trail through to the Indian restoration through to where the farmers’ market is and to where the outdoor dining at The Pick Up Cafe happens in the redone county jail is like the coolest thing ever. It feels like a new place, and it feels like an intentional place.”

The work downtown has been accomplished with private investment and through a variety of grants for infrastructure improvements, according to Murphy.

“One of the organization’s greater achievements has been helping the town apply for and receive $900,000 in state and federal grants to rebuild the downtown municipal parking lots — a project that came to fruition this summer,” Murphy said. “We made the downtown parking lot safer, more attractive and easier to navigate without using any money from the general Skowhegan tax base.”

The match money required in the grant process came from private investment at the Somerset Grist Mill in the former county jail and from the additional property tax revenue generated by downtown improvement projects.

“It’s downtown improvements paying for themselves, essentially,” he said.

Main Street Skowhegan is accepting tax-deductible donations to expand programs in 2015 through their website,, through the mail and at their downtown office on Water Street.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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