AUGUSTA — When Grace and Justin Fecteau decided to open their business, it was as if all the pieces fell into place right in front of them.

Co-owners Justin and Grace Fecteau laugh during an interview on Friday at Huiskamer coffee shop in downtown Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“It was not a long decision-making process,” Justin Fecteau, 33, said. “Our final decision was through a Facebook post.”

“Within a span of a couple of months we were just full-on,” Grace Fecteau, 35, said.

Now, seven months after they signed the lease on the first floor retail space at 216 Water St., and seven weeks after they opened Huiskamer Coffee House, they are planning for summer events in the coffeehouse and throughout downtown.

“The writing is on the wall,” Justin Fecteau said. “People are scooping up the buildings, almost fighting over real estate downtown. Two years ago, I would have laughed at coming downtown, but now I don’t They have done so much in the last two calendar years.”

Some of what’s been accomplished — like the murals on buildings — are obvious to all who travel through the neighborhood.

But other activity is out of sight of passersby. Several buildings, like 71 Water St., which has housed the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and 28 Water St., the former home of the Kennebec Market, have both changed hands. At the other end of downtown, 333-339 Water St. is expected to be redeveloped starting this year under the federal Opportunity Zone program by Dirigo Capital Advisers and Capital Area Properties. And next door to that, at 341 – 349 Water St., Heather  Pouliot said she’s planning to open an event space by the end of the year at the site of the former Shenanigans.

“It will be called the Caucus Room,” said Pouliot, who is married to state Sen. Matthew Pouliot.

Three different size rooms will be available, and Pouliot said she’s hoping to find a caterer to provide in-house catering.  In addition to the function spaces, the Pouliots will be adding apartments in the upper floor of the building.

Betsy Curtis has been watching the changes on Water Street for five years. She, like Pouliot, has been a member of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, which has been working to develop Augusta’s downtown into a vibrant neighborhood.

Curtis brought Betsy’s, her furniture and home goods consignment store, to Augusta from Waterville where the competition was stiff. She said she stays in Augusta because she sees tremendous growth and change to the downtown neighborhood.

“A lot of of the property owners are building from the top down and putting residences in the upper floors,” she said.

Because of the growth in residents, she said she has seen her business pick up, and she can see the potential for other small businesses to open, like a high-end grocer or a bakery.

The plans that are in the making to convert the upper floors of the Vickery building at 257-271 Water St., into apartments with retail spaces planned for the street level space indirectly paved the way for the Huiskamer Coffee House to open. Because of those plans, the Vickery Cafe closed and that was one of the factors the Fecteaus considered when deciding to open a business.

Grace Fecteau had been working in the KeyBank building as the financial manager for the Women, Infants and Children program. She had been so absorbed working her day job, she had no time to figure out what kind of business she wanted to open.

“So I quit my job, the Vickery closed, the (Augusta Downtown Alliance) made this post, and within a span of a couple of months, we were full on ready to go,” Grace Fecteau said. “Everything fell into place. The business plan worked out really well, Kennebec Savings was amazing to work with and there was so much community support.”

The recently opened Huiskamer coffee shop, as seen Friday in downtown Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The concept for the coffee house came from the time the Fecteaus spent touring Europe. They met in the U.S. Army while stationed in Germany and deployed to Iraq, and as they were dating, they visited cities where coffee culture is strong.

The name of the cafe is the Dutch word for living room, and it’s the home-like environment that they say sets their business apart,

“Every young person has a dream about opening a bar, right?” Justin Fecteau said. “For us coffee was a more realistic model. We have done the cafe circuit in western Europe. We wanted to take that ‘cozy-esque’ concept and bring it to Maine. Like the Dutch, Maine has pretty crummy winter weather.”

Despite opening in the dead of winter, business has been great, they say, even if it’s not yet predictable.

“This summer, I just want to see people being able to cool down and relax and have a nice drink and really enjoy themselves,” Grace Fecteau said.

In addition to the coffee drinks and pastries, the Fecteaus are planning an art show for later this year, and expect to host poetry slams.

Fecteau grew up on Sand Hill. And the proof of the changes in downtown is in the parking.

“I’ve had to park off Water Street, and I never had to do that growing up,” he said.

Even the prospect of opening Water Street to two-way traffic and re-engineering Commercial Street doesn’t dampen their optimism.

“It will slow down traffic and get people to see us, and for this to not be a highway but more of an actual destination,” Fecteau said.

City officials endorsed that plan in July 2018 after debate and feedback from Augusta residents. Approval from the state Department of Transportation was also required. Earlier this month, Augusta elected officials approved increases to the cost of the upcoming project when bids came in higher than expected.

 

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632
[email protected]
Twitter: @JLowellKJ

 

 

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