SKOWHEGAN — Opening a restaurant has long been an idea that Billie Clark has wanted to pursue.

As the idea began to come to fruition, she brought her daughter, Samantha Hilton, 21, into the plan. Between Clark’s background in human resources and Hilton’s experience in customer service, the two created a business plan together and presented it to the town of Skowhegan, where they received support from the Board of Selectmen.

“She has always talked about opening a restaurant or something similar,” Hilton said. “It sounded fun. I’ve always thought about opening a restaurant or working in one where I was a part of the family.”

After months of planning, applying for licenses and grants, the mother-daughter duo will soon be opening up their business venture: Unwined.

Located at 151 Water St., the pair say that they want to operate a business that welcomes all and provides a meeting place — whether it’s a quick stop before seeing a show at the Opera House, stopping for a glass of wine before a movie or meeting up with friends on a Saturday afternoon.

“Everyone will be treated the same way when you walk in,” Clark said. “We’re really focusing on the small hometown, family-oriented, excellent customer service feel while trying to keep everything local.”

Hilton, who waitresses at the Heritage House, said that she would like to recreate the “small business, family-owned feel of things.”

“I love the family-oriented feel and I thought it was a great idea when (Clark) started talking about it.”

The pair plan to open the wine bar by the end of June, serving wines and beers sourced locally. Local food options will also be offered.

The 1,200-square-foot space will be able to seat up to 40 people at tables and an 11-foot bar. The plan is to have four rotating taps, featuring nearby selections. The space that will house Unwined is currently under renovation.

“We’re not set in our offerings. If we try something and it doesn’t work, we will try something else and figure it out,” Clark said.

In the meantime, the pair, with the help of family members, have been traveling around the state to try different beers and wines. Clark added that “we don’t want to offer anything that we haven’t tried, even if we don’t like it.”

Unwined owner Billie Clark, right, and daughter Samantha Hilton, the manager and public relations representative of the business, are looking forward to opening at 151 Water St. in Skowhegan this summer. The mother-daughter team, seen Wednesday, say their business will feature locally produced wines and craft beers. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The pair’s Skowhegan roots go back generations; both Hilton and Clark are graduates of Skowhegan High School. They hope to celebrate the town’s history in their venue with old photos of sites in town. The building’s current owner did not respond to an inquiry about the history of the structure, though Clark estimates that the building has been standing since around the 1890s.

The plan for now is to operate Unwined from 3 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, noon to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays, though they may adjust based on business needs.

“I am super excited about this addition to Skowhegan,” said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. “The more places for people to shop, eat, drink, gather and socialize, the more people we’ll be able to attract to our commercial district.”

Clark and Hilton’s upcoming business venture is one of many in the works in Skowhegan. The town’s Economic and Community Development director shared a list of six other businesses that have recently popped up in town or plan to open in the coming weeks.

“There is a creative energy from all of the activity in town that is encouraging new businesses to take a serious look at Skowhegan,” said Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of Economic and Community Development. “I believe that this will be a busy year for new businesses.”

Across the hallway from Unwined is the Thrifty Chic Boutique, which opened earlier this month. Owner Kylie Brown of Smithfield opened the shop as a way to take a break from her role in the health care field.

“I work in health care and just needed a break. This is something that I had always wanted to do in my twenties,” Brown said. “I opened from nothing. My friends gave chairs, my in-laws provided ladders from their basement and my husband made the racks.”

Thrifty Chic Boutique is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 10 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

“Our current shops and restaurants will definitely benefit from having more businesses downtown, which will bring in more foot traffic and more shoppers for everyone,” Cannon said.

Cannon said that Main Street Skowhegan is also working on a plan to foster real estate development, specifically to provide housing in now-vacant second floors of historic buildings.

Main Street Skowhegan also announced applications for Technical Assistance Grants for Skowhegan-based businesses earlier this week, with $6,000 to be awarded to businesses in amounts ranging between $500 and $2,000. Applications will be available online until midnight May 15.

“The more people we have frequenting downtown, the more enticing it will be for landlords to consider adding residential options to this part of Skowhegan,” Cannon said.

Several other businesses in town have also been working to expand operations. Bigelow Brewing announced in late 2019 plans to convert the four-story Solon Manufacturing building into a large production space, taproom, residential living spaces and restaurants. The building is located at 7 Island Ave.

Maine Grains, located at 42 Court St., announced last fall plans to expand operations in the parking lot adjacent to its current space. The property formerly housed the Kennebec Valley Inn. The plan is to develop a property that will house a slew of enterprises, including housing, entrepreneurs looking to grow their business and a home for the farmers during the winter months, with the potential for much more.

Another business, The Good Crust, began operating out of the Maine Grains property late last year, allowing The Miller’s Table at Maine Grains to expand its offerings. The business also hired its first full-time, in-house baker last fall.

Located next to the Miller’s Table is Crooked Face Creamery, which expanded into downtown Skowhegan in 2019 and includes a milk room, production space, aging room, a smoking area and a packaging area.

The Run of River, a proposed whitewater recreation area in and around the Kennebec River Gorge, could make the town a tourist destination. The site is to include a whitewater park with a four-season trail system, riverfront promenade and fishing waters with improved fish habitat.

“I think people are excited to steer Skowhegan in a different direction,” Clark said. “I grew up here, I graduated from here and my mom graduated from Skowhegan. We are from here. This is our town.”

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