THE BIG YELLOW excavator lumbered over to the half-chewed-off wall of the former Levine’s clothing store, plucked a big chunk of concrete blocks in its giant teeth and dropped them in a heap.

It was a clear, warm early October day in Waterville, and Gary Taylor of Fairfield was parked in the city-owned lot on Front Street, watching the demolition of the building more than a century after the famous store for men and boys opened at the Main Street site.

“Another era gone by,” Taylor, 72, said Thursday after getting out of his vehicle. “Big box stores and the malls — I think it’s hard for downtown to compete.”

Knowing Levine’s was going to be demolished, Taylor stopped to watch history in the making. Colby College, which now owns the property, plans to partner with an investor to build a 42-room, high quality, boutique hotel with a restaurant on the site once it’s cleared.

Taylor, of Fairfield, is optimistic and says maybe the activity downtown will generate more development.

He has fond memories of shopping at Levine’s when he was young and just out of the military.

“This was my first place to go and charge anything. I didn’t have any credit, and they were very nice about it. I said I’d like to charge some stuff, and they said no problem. I worked in the woods for 30 years. I sold a lot of firewood over the years and met a lot of friendly people. I bought quite a bit of clothes in there over the years.”

Taylor wasn’t the only one drawn to the demolition site. A steady stream of cars and pickups drove into the lot over the afternoon and parked in the shade to watch the south end of the building come down. It was built as an addition many years ago.

“I’ve been here for 40 years, and I raised my kids here,” said Shirley Shepherd. “I raised my five boys, and all their first suits were purchased here at Levine’s for going to church, and then I raised a grandson, and that’s where he got his first suit and other clothing. It was kind of the place you went and you knew you were going to get what you wanted and get good service.”

She sat on the hood of her car as her dog, Holly, an 8-year-old black, brown and white Australian shepherd, sat nearby.

“When I heard it was coming down, it was kind of nostalgic,” she said, teary-eyed. “It’s not that I’m opposed to change, but change that makes it better for us is important.”

Shepherd remembered when store owners Pacy and Ludy Levine got old and their nephew, Howard Miller, managed the business day-to-day, but the brothers still came in every day and talked with staff and customers. The store closed 20 years ago in 1996, the year Pacy died at age 91. Ludy died in 1997 at age 98.

“It felt like kind of a family type of thing,” Shepherd said. “You could trust them, and you could trust the quality of what they sold.”

As the excavator from Costello Dismantling Co., of West Wareham, Massachusetts, ripped metal siding strips off the east end of the building and dropped them like toothpicks onto the ground, Blaine Moxcey, 81, of Waterville, stood watching.

“I used to shop at Levine’s years ago,” he said. “They used to shorten your pants. I bought clothes, dungarees, shoes, maybe. I talked to Howard Miller, and once in a while the Levines’d say hi.”

A 1955 Waterville High School graduate, Moxcey recalled that his daughter, Kim, worked at Levine’s as a sales clerk for two summers while she was in college.

The excavator knocked concrete blocks and strips of metal siding and wood from the east corner of the building and with it, a “Levine’s Rear Entrance,” sign came crashing down.

“It’s a wonder somebody didn’t want that sign,” Moxcey said.

Across the street, Steven Knights stood on the grassy triangle to the south of Levine’s where cars and trucks whizzed past at the busy intersection of Main, Front, Spring and Water streets.

Looking at the gaping hole in the building where the excavator was yanking and ripping and plucking debris, Knights said he thinks it’s great that vacant and deteriorating buildings are being razed to make way for something fresh and new.

“It’s going to bring more people to this town, and it’s also going to make more living space,” he said.

He said he likes the idea of having Colby students living downtown in a new student complex to be built on the northeast corner of The Concourse. A special curriculum around community service will be developed for those students, and staff also will live in the building.

“The good thing about it is, you get all nationalities and races when you have college students,” Knights said. “You get to interact with other people from different places, and they get to find out what kind of people we are.”

Also on the grassy space, Raymond LaPointe watched and recorded the demolition with a video camera. “It’s kind of a sad thing to see this. It’s been here for a long time,” he said.

Over at the city lot, Taylor also was contemplating the bright side of progress, as he watched Levine’s disappear, piece by piece.

“It’s too bad,” he said, “but hopefully, it will generate something and it will be better.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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