AUGUSTA — The newspapers covering the windows at 287 Water St. have unstuck enough to allow a narrow view inside.

The space, which formerly housed Gagliano’s Italian Bistro, has been closed since last August and vacated by Gagliano’s since November.

The windows won’t be covered for much longer. In June, two area restaurateurs plan to unveil the space as Otto’s by the River, serving locally sourced eclectic American food to the downtown business and residential communities.

“We’re completely renovating it,” Wyatt Shorey said.

Shorey and Steven Dumas own and run Aunt Gin’s on Route 17 in Whitefield, which opened last August. They have also operated Steven Dumas Catering since 1997.

What they plan to bring to downtown Augusta starting in June is a 45-seat restaurant that’s a bit upscale but not stuffy, he said.

“Downtown is becoming a destination for people,” he said. “There’s a good feel down there. We’re thinking good things will happen down there with restaurants and shops.”

And if things go well for them, he said, there’s plenty of room to expand.

A number of longtime businesses have staked their claim in downtown Augusta and continue to draw customers to their specialty shops and service businesses.

But over the last several years, the character of downtown Augusta has been shifting.

Property developers have acquired and renovated several buildings, filling the upper floors with market-rate apartments, some with views of the Kennebec River. That has supported a number of existing restaurants at the street level. But some longtime businesses, like Stacy’s Hallmark, and law office Lipman & Katz announced their exit from downtown at the end of 2015, following a string of other exits. Most recently, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust announced it will close its Water Street branch at the end of May, directing customers to the office in South China.

Shorey said he and Dumas see the opportunity to serve a fast lunch for eat-in or delivery for those who work in the area and to host people in a good, quiet space for dinner seven days a week. Plus, there’s a deck outside. It’s small, Shorey said, but it has enough room for a couple of tables.

Chris Shaw also sees opportunity in downtown Augusta.

A sergeant for the Augusta Police Department, Shaw noticed a “priced for quick sale” sign on the former Bridge Street Tavern and investigated. The property changed hands in February and if his renovation work schedule holds, his wife Stacey plans to open The Black & Tan on June 10. He has been documenting the progress on The Black & Tan‘s Facebook page

Shaw has been using vacation time to renovate the space. He spent last week painting the wall a deep green, while Stacey was taking a break in Florida. Gone are the pool tables and mirrored walls and ceilings and the loud bands. The restaurant and bar will seat 85 in booths that will be made from pews salvaged from a church in southern Maine and serve a full menu of Irish — Irish coddle and bangers and mash — and American food. Shaw said he likes poutine, so that will be on the menu, too. The bar will serve well drinks and have 16 beers on tap. The stage will remain for live music, Shaw said, and The Black & Tan will bring in Celtic and “easy” music.

Stacey Shaw has managed the Emporium in Readfield, and she’s still a cook at the Maranacook schools in Readfield. She’ll run the restaurant, which will be open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight.

“I stay out of it when it comes to the business,” Shaw said. “This is her thing.”

Even so, he’s been fielding questions from people who stop by to see what’s happening. The reception has been great and the feedback he’s getting says people are looking for a new place to have lunch.

“There are a couple of really great places downtown, but we need more restaurants and more nightlife,” he said.

The third entry in the restaurant sweepstakes is Brother Express, a take out Chinese restaurant at 166 Water St. on the corner of Bridge Street. It has been open for a month, and its owner, Zheng Dong, said business has been good. Open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., it also offers delivery.

The impact of these new businesses may spread beyond the geographic boundaries of downtown Augusta.

“With the changes in seasons, we often see new ventures in any community, but there seems to be a real enthusiasm happening among the business owners and residents of (downtown Augusta),” Ross Cunningham, president and chief executive officer of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said. “With the recent changes in ownership of several properties and the new executive director at the Augusta Downtown Alliance, I expect that we will continue to see a strong resurgence in Augusta in not only business ventures but cultural events as well.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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