Angela Wing demonstrates how a portable and inflatable standup paddleboard is in a backpack at Southern Kennebec SUP Rentals on Thursday in Augusta. Southern Kennebec SUP is one of four business that will be opening on Front Street this summer. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — When Angela Wing and Keith Bellefleur saw the listing for space available for rent on Augusta’s Front Street earlier this year, they reached out right away.

Wing and Bellefleur, owners of Southern Kennebec SUP Rentals, were looking for a base for their business during a year of transition, and the space facing the Kennebec River in downtown Augusta seemed like the perfect fit.

They and the owners of three other businesses will take advantage of the seasonal spaces at the lowest level of 275-283 Water St.

“The whole idea is to get things going on the river,” building owner Richard Parkhurst said.

For years, as the buildings in downtown Augusta have undergone redevelopment, the challenge has been to find ways to link Water Street with the riverfront. When most riverfront communities were established across New England in the 18th and 19th centuries their buildings faced away from rivers, which were used for power generation, transportation and waste disposal. But in the 21st century, rivers are considered an asset and a draw.

To help focus attention on the Kennebec River, Parkhurst leased out the spaces that had been used for storage with the understanding that the business owners would clean out the spaces and make them accessible and usable and be open for business by July 1 for at least two months to take advantage of the summer season on the river.

Each of the businesses has some link with the river.

Brothers Joel and John Bennett at East Point Recreation are now finishing up the paper work they need complete to able to rent personal watercraft.

Brad Wallace, a partner in the Raging Bull Saloon, plans to sell picnic tables and Adirondack chairs through River Wood, a woodworking business, and he’ll also have vending machines to sell drinks and snacks and have fishing tackle and sunscreen available for sale. He’ll have samples of furniture on display.

“I do a little bit of everything,” Wallace said.

Wallace said he’s spent about two days so far cleaning out the space, including silt on the floors left from floods. He said he’s still figuring out what he’s going to do with the space, and how he’ll display his furniture.

He said developing businesses is his passion, and the space opened up an opportunity for him. If he can, he said, he’d like to sell Christmas trees and wreaths later in the year.

Artist Chad Healey will also have an art studio space, which he announced on his Facebook page. Attempts to reach Healey were unsuccessful.

For the Bennett brothers, who started working the concept last winter, the availability of the space helped bring an idea that stemmed from their longstanding interest in power sports to fruition.

“We have a couple businesses in the area, and we wanted to expand,” Joel Bennett said. They own a moving company and do welding and fabrication in the area. “We think we can make a well-known, fun activity in the area. It’ll be a big weekend business for us.”

The watercraft will be available for rental on the docks on the west back of the river, Bennett said, and they will provide life jackets and instruction on how to operate them.

Keith Bellefleur stands beside a rack of boards Thursday at Southern Kennebec SUP Rentals in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Wing and Bellefleur actually opened earlier this month, from 10 a.m., to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and may extend their hours based on waterfront events. They also deliver and pick up paddleboards throughout the week within a 30-mile radius of Augusta.

While they started the business by renting and delivering paddleboards, they added sales a year ago because of increased demand due to the pandemic and will continue that this year. They also plan to rent out fishing kayaks and will add fat bike rentals later this year for the fall and winter.

“I’m hoping we see the same trend continue, because people have realized they really like to do these other activities that haven’t been indoors,” Wing said.

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