WATERVILLE — Joyce Joseph drives by the former Levine’s clothing store on Main Street downtown and feels sad, knowing the building will be gone within a month.

It has been more than a century since the store opened on that spot.

“I went by there this morning and I’ve got to tell you, there were tears,” Joseph said. “I’m heartbroken.”

Joseph, 81, of Waterville, worked at Levine’s for 26 years and retired about a year before the store closed 20 years ago, in 1996. She said she loved her job as a clerk and that store owners Pacy and Ludy Levine were wonderful employers.

The building at 9 Main St. — the southernmost structure on the east side of the downtown block — is being razed as part of downtown revitalization efforts by the city and Colby College.

Colby officials announced late Wednesday afternoon plans to build a small, 42-room, high-quality, full-service boutique hotel with a restaurant in its place.

“Our intention is, in fact, to redevelop 9 Main St. as a hotel,” said Kate Carlisle, Colby’s director of communications. “Things are happening very quickly. It’s a great sign of momentum and promise.”

Arthur Turmelle, who also worked for the Levine family, said he thinks that because Pacy and Ludy were Colby graduates who loved and supported the college, they would approve of what Colby is doing in tearing the old store down and putting something new in its place.

“If anyone were to take over the building, I think that they would be impressed to know that Colby had done so,” Turmelle said. “They were so impressed with the college and they saw it grow up over the years. Isn’t it ironic? I would bet that they would be happy that it is Colby.”

The hotel project still is in the planning phase, so information about potential development partners and a timeline for the project are not yet available, according to Carlisle.

Coincidentally, many years ago The Crescent Hotel was on that end of Main Street, and it was the first thing motorists saw as they entered Waterville from the bridge connecting the city with Winslow.

Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president of planning, said Wednesday that this is an exciting time and the transformation of downtown has begun.

“A hotel will be a catalyst to more vibrant development downtown, bringing a critical influx of visitors to Main Street to dine, shop and attend events,” he said. “As businesses continue to invest in downtown Waterville, their guests will enjoy staying in the heart of the city.”

Colby bought the Levine’s building and four others with plans to either renovate them or tear them down and partner with investors to create new businesses. Work to dismantle parts of the inside of the building has been ongoing, but demolition by Costello Dismantling Co., of West Wareham, Massachusetts, started Tuesday on the building itself. A chain link fence has been erected around its perimeter, enclosing sidewalks on the west, south and east ends. Parking spaces on Main Street adjacent to the building also are closed off, as is the connector road from Main Street to Front Street, just south of Levine’s.

Demolition is expected to take three to four weeks at most, according to Carlisle.

“We’re very mindful of the importance of 9 Main St. and its history to generations of Waterville residents, and we’re considering how to honor that heritage in the site’s redevelopment,” Carlisle said.

Some materials taken out of the building have been donated to Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store on Silver Street, she said. The items include 40 doors, two grates, a chair, three wooden corner shelves, four light fixtures, four medicine cabinets, some plywood and wallboard, she said.

‘EVERYBODY SHOPPED THERE’

News that Levine’s building materials would be reused came as some comfort to Joseph, the former store clerk, who said she is glad a nonprofit will benefit from the items.

Many buildings and businesses that were landmarks when she was younger are now gone, she said, including the former Elks building on Appleton Street, which was torn down last month and will be turned into a parking lot. Colby bought that building, as well as the Hains building at 173 Main St., located diagonally across Appleton from the Elks lot. The Hains building will be renovated and Collaborative Consulting, a technology business that expects to have 200 people working downtown within five years, will inhabit the upper floors of the building.

Colby plans to start building a student residential complex next year on the northeast corner of The Concourse, across Main Street from the Hains building. That building is intended to have retail business on the ground floor. Colby is expected to buy that section of The Concourse soon from the city for $300,000. Colby also bought the former Waterville Hardware building across the street from Levine’s and plans to demolish it, though a time has not been set yet.

Everyone shopped at Levine’s in its heyday, Joseph said. The store was founded in 1891 by Pacy and Ludy Levine’s father, William, when he was 26.

The Levine brothers loved Colby, attended all the football games and many other events. They even named a first-floor section of the clothing store for Colby, and a Colby mural was painted on the wall.

“They called it the Colby section,” Joseph recalled. “It had sweaters, pants, other items. Really, it was all about Colby. They were dedicated to Colby, totally. Pacy and Ludy went to all the games. Harold Alfond would come pick them up to take them out of town for games.”

Alfond, a philanthropist and Waterville native, was married to the Levines’ sister, Dorothy, who was nicknamed “Bibby.”

Ken Quirion, of Winslow, shopped at the store in the 1960s and remembers the Levine brothers were always there to greet customers.

“Everybody shopped there,” recalled Quirion, 65. “Main Street was a happy place. Everybody went there. There were no shopping centers. You went at Christmastime and it was standing in line at Levine’s. It was a busy place. They had all kinds of clothes.”

Like Joseph, Quirion remembers when Main Street was a bustling, vibrant place, as he drives by the former Levine’s store, now being torn down.

“We’re getting old,” Quirion said. “A lot of people are sad because a lot of history is gone in Waterville. It’s sad. Things are changing. Manufacturing is gone. If it wasn’t for Colby and Thomas College, where would we be in Waterville?”

Dana Sennett, a former mayor and City Council chairman who for many years was a sales representative for the Morning Sentinel, also recalled shopping at Levine’s.

“We always bought our bluejeans there. When we needed bluejeans, we went to Levine’s,” he recalled. “And then, of course, when I had their account, I bought suit coats there. When I went in, they immediately knew my size.”

Joseph recalled that Levine’s employed a tailor and three or four women who did alterations and worked on the second floor.

“When you came in to buy clothes, they had someone to alter them, at no charge,” she said.

THE LEVINE’S LEGACY

William Levine, Pacy and Ludy’s father, was a Russian immigrant. He arrived in the U.S. in 1886, five years before he founded the business that would become known as “the store for men and boys.”

He started peddling clothes from a pack on his back in New York City and then walked to Boston over a six-month period. While in Boston, he met his wife-to-be, Sara, and they married in 1889. They traveled north to Portland, Augusta and Waterville; but before opening his first store, William drove a horse-drawn wagon to places such as Monson, Strong and Kingfield, to sell his clothing.

He bought a clothing store owned by Charles E. Lessard in the former hotel block on the corner of Main and Ticonic streets in Waterville and later moved to the site of the former Ward Bros. store at 91 Main St.

The store moved to lower downtown Main Street after the turn of the century. A plaque on the store was dated 1910 because that’s when the current building was faced, Ludy Levine told a Sentinel reporter in 1980. The building underwent renovations in 1928, 1939, 1961 and 1976. In about 1929, the Levines doubled the size of the store after buying adjacent property, and they joined the two buildings with an inside arch. The address of the buildings at the time was 1-19 Main St.

The Levines had eight children, including Lewis and Percy, who would later get the nicknames Ludy and Pacy.

Born in Waterville in 1898, Ludy attended Waterville schools, served in World War I and graduated from Colby in 1921. While a Colby student, he helped his father in the store afternoons. Pacy was born in 1905 and attended public schools and then Coburn Classical Institute, working in the store after he finished his studying. Ludy, who served in both World Ward I and World War II, also graduated from Colby, as did many other Levine relatives.

They maintained a lifelong love of sports, played golf regularly and bowled.

The Levines lived in a grand home on Ticonic Street. When Sara died in 1934, Freda Miller, Pacy and Ludy’s sister, ran the family household. When William, who was director of First National Bank and owned many buildings in Waterville, died in 1946, Pacy and Ludy took over their father’s store. Miller’s son, Howard, a 1941 Colby graduate, was general manager.

Ludy and Pacy for many years did the buying for the store, traveling to New York, Boston and other places. Later, Howard Miller accompanied them.

Pacy died in 1996 at age 91; Ludy died in 1997 at age 98.

‘A BEAUTIFUL MAIN STREET’

Ludy and Pacy remained bachelors and lived together in the Ticonic Street house, now owned by Turmelle, who worked as their personal carpenter. Turmelle, now 58 and a rental property owner, lived next door to the Levines while growing up. Later he did carpentry work on not only the store and apartments over the store, but also the many rental properties the Levine brothers owned, particularly in the city’s North End.

Turmelle, who bought the Levine house and started living in it in 2000 with his wife, Connie, and their family, said Wednesday that Pacy and Ludy were not only mentors but also good friends.

“It’s incredible to be sitting in their house, talking about them now,” he said. “I do miss them. I miss the store. As time goes by, there are more younger people who don’t even remember the Levines. It is bittersweet to see the store go. I’m curious to see what’s going to be in its place and what it’s going to look like. It was such a fixture. We all don’t know what we have ’til it’s gone.”

“I remember at the end when the store was sold, Pacy said it had quite a run — and times change,” Turmelle added.

Tom Oliver, of Manchester, bought the Levine’s building in 1998, two years after the store closed. In 2005 he rented out space in the building for flea market vendors. He also rented apartments upstairs.

Michael Soracchi, of Milford, Connecticut, bought the building for $70,000 in 2013. He renovated some apartments on the upper three floors and planned to draw retail for the main floor, but plans collapsed in 2014 because of disagreements between Soracchi and the city about an application for a city loan to pay for part of the cost. Soracchi said he would not move forward without the loan and city officials said he had failed to meet deadlines for providing documentation needed for the loan.

Meanwhile, a tattoo shop, INK-4-LIFE, had moved into the ground floor on the Front Street side of the building in 2013 after fire destroyed the business when it was on the first floor of 18 Main St., across from Levine’s in May of that year. The tattoo shop eventually moved to Fairfield.

Even after all the changes that have taken place over many years, Joyce Joseph fondly remembers the good times.

Pacy, Ludy and Howard Miller were thoughtful employers, she said. The Levines knew her children were involved in sports, so they allowed her to have every Saturday off; and she did not work a lot of hours in the summer when her children were young, she said.

People who patronized Levines loved the store, she said.

“Customers came from Bangor. They came from Portland. They came from everywhere. They had the best men’s store in the state, literally. There was Levine’s and Sterns and Emery Brown and we had Dunham’s,” she said. “We had such a beautiful Main Street.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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