AUGUSTA — Carrie Rossignol and Katie Smith took two very different routes to choosing downtown Augusta for their businesses.

Rossignol ran the Video Game Exchange with her brother for 15 years, moving it from Bangor Street to Water Street, and seeing an up-tick in business as a result.

When she was considering a relocation two and a half years after she bought a Winslow consignment store, she thought again of downtown Augusta.

“At any given day, there are 45,000 people in Augusta,” she said. Compared to Winslow’s population of about 7,800 people, the pool of potential customers was much more attractive in the capital city.

Her store, Fashions, opened at 190 Water St. at the end of last year.

Smith was looking at a different set of numbers.


She’s planning to open Circa 1885, a wine bar at 228 Water St. by the end of July in the space that was formerly Charlemagne’s Bar & Lounge.

That’s something Smith said she could not have done in Savannah, Georgia, where she lived until a couple of months ago with her husband, Chris Geerlings. She has worked as a project manager and in executive administration as well as managing bars and a brewery.

Smith and Geerlings had talked about opening a wine bar there, but commercial rents were high, even considering the potential customers that a tourism destination like Savannah could draw.

“Savannah rents are six to eight times more for a comparable space,” Smith said, taking a break from renovation at the bar. “It’s more touristy there, but that’s still a lot of rent.”

They had also talked about moving to Maine, but that didn’t seem like something they would be able to do in the near future. But when Geerlings secured a position with Cushnoc Brewing Company as head brewer, the pieces started falling into place.

The two women’s businesses replace two other businesses, so it’s not a net gain for Water Street, but it’s still good news for downtown Augusta.


“We’re excited to have them,” Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said. The alliance promotes business growth and development in downtown Augusta.

For both business owners, the space was the thing.

Rossignol moved into the space vacated last year by GEvolution Fitness. It’s a large space, and that presents some challenges. Half of the store is dedicated to women’s consignment shoes, purses and clothes in all sizes. The other half is given over to furniture and home decor.

As large as the space is, Rossignol said, she’s not currently accepting any more consignments for clothes, but there’s still room for furniture and items for the home.

The large store gives her plenty of opportunity to display outfits in the window display space. And as soon as the weather improves, she anticipates both the foot and vehicle traffic on Water Street will bring more people through her doors. During the nice weather over the weekend, she said, three generations of the same family came in to shop after stopping in the Downtown Diner.

At the wine bar, Smith currently has plastic up over her windows and a sign that implores people not to peek. Even so, she said she’s had a steady stream of people through the door and people who have offered to help her get up and running, including offers to help paint, where to find good restaurant equipment and even to tile.


“They really mean it,” she said. “Most people don’t offer to tile if they don’t really mean it.”

Her plans call for remaking the space into a comfortable place where a book club could meet and anyone could stop in for a drink and something to eat.

Circa 1885 will serve eight different wines on tap, beer in cans or bottles, and cocktails — along with appetizers or tapas.

The really cool thing about wine on tap, Smith said, is that it doesn’t go bad.

“If you’ve ever been to a bar and had a glass of wine that tastes like vinegar, it’s oxidized,” Smith said. That reflects badly on the bar and on the winemaker because customers will think that’s how the wine is supposed to taste, she said. Winemakers like the idea because they know that people are tasting the wine as it’s meant to be.

“Most bar owners will tell you they don’t want to open a bottle for you to try it,” because that’s the beginning of oxidation for that bottle, she said. With wine on tap, offering a sample to try is no problem.


The idea to open a wine bar was, she said, staring her in the face. She and her husband live on Water Street and walked their dogs by the space daily. And although she considers herself to be risk averse, she agreed to take on the space, applied for a Tipping Point small business loan and open a bar after being in Augusta only two months.

“My biggest regret would be if someone else had opened up in this space,” Smith said. “I would have regretted that my whole life.”

Rossignol, whose history on Water Street dates back more than a decade, said she’d like to see more specialty shops and cafes on Water Street, but she’s optimistic.

“I think Cushnoc Brewing will be big enough to anchor downtown,” she said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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