WILTON — Plenty has been happening over the past year on Main Street in downtown Wilton.

Five new businesses have found a home, multiple apartments were filled and offices, service businesses and other commercial concerns have relocated to or opened in or near the downtown area.

And they all moved into spaces that were sitting idle.

Infrastructure upgrades, completed a bit more than a year ago with help from a downtown revitalization grant, complement the town’s renewal and lifted spirit, which had been challenged by the loss of large manufacturers, including Bass Shoe, Forster Manufacturing and Wilton Tannery.

In 2017, the owners of Fattie McGee’s Burger Joint, Collins Cake & Bake, Family Freeze, Life Perk’s Coffee Co. and Beyond Shoe Repair set up business on Main Street.

A nearby former school, Wilton Primary, is being restored and developed into apartments by Michael Wells. Two rural, modern, upscale apartments are being built, plus a home for Wells, according to Wells’ son Phil.

In other activity, Carrier Welding has moved to Depot Street and Tim Lovett’s Maine Made Furniture moved into the Western Maine Development site, part of the former Bass Shoe factory on the Weld Road. With help from the town, both companies received Community Development Block Grants to help expand their businesses and create jobs.

Adam Cote purchased Taylor Construction on Depot Street and is keeping the business going.

Back on Main Street, the commercial portion of Expenet is moving to the third floor of the Wilton Hardware building. A new brewery pub restaurant is proposed for the former Expenet site. The Western Maine Play Museum plans to open this year. Both are expected to draw people downtown.

Another small manufacturer from Massachusetts is working on plans to relocate to the Western Maine Development Group site, owner Gil Reed said.

Over the past 90 days, he has negotiated with four companies that have shown interest.

“We are working on our initial goal to fill the 300,000 square feet of buildings, spread over 6.5 acres, that already houses Barclays and other businesses,” Reed said.

At the four-story Bass-Wilson Building, also formerly used to make shoes, the space now boasts 10 new apartments that are all occupied, Joey Cousineau said.

Along with longtime business occupant Calzolaio Pasta Co., Androscoggin Home Health Care and Comfort and Life Enrichment Advancing People set up an office in the building adjacent to Wilson Lake and downtown, as have others, he said.

“I think people love the scenery downtown,” Cousineau said.

He also credits the revitalization work. It was done well and created an appealing downtown that has attracted different businesses, ones you might not expect in downtown Wilton. There are specialty shops and artisans, along with new and different eateries that draw other businesses and people to Wilton, he said.

In addition to the Bass-Wilson apartments, “we have seen an upsurge in people living in apartments downtown,” Town Manager Rhonda Irish said. “Additional apartments have been constructed or upgraded in other downtown buildings.”

Younger people and new business owners are seeking space in Wilton, she said.

Business partners and building owners Jeff Chaisson and Joshua Michaud say processes are in place locally that allow businesses to open, grow and succed.

“You can make it happen here,” Chaisson said. “People in Wilton are supportive of every business and very cooperative to work with.”

In 2010, a planning effort was begun with the belief that “if a downtown is healthy, then the rest of the community is healthy,” Irish said at the time.

Residents volunteered to serve on an advisory downtown committee that looked at economic development and housing in the downtown area. A $10,000 Community Development Block Grant provided resources for planning. They worked with economic development consultant Darryl Sterling, who was hired in 2014.

The town received a $400,000 Downtown Revitalization grant in 2015 through the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development. Funds were used to make improvements around the monument, parking lots, sidewalks and for new street lighting, Irish said. New benches, signs and trash cans will finish the work.

A $150,000 facade grant also was received last year. Some businesses along Main Street are preparing to make facade improvements, with half the cost covered by the grant.

At this point, there is limited building space for businesses downtown, except within the two large, former Bass buildings, Irish said.

There remain a few vacant buildings on Main Street that could be bought and demolished to clear space for new construction, she said.

filed under: