Coffee By Design announced it is permanently closing its flagship store on Congress Street in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Coffee By Design’s original location on Congress Street, which helped revitalize Portland’s downtown and was beloved by regulars as a neighborhood hangout, has closed for good after 29 years in business.

Owner Mary Allen Lindemann announced the closure Monday, a couple weeks after saying the Congress Street location would be temporarily closed because of a staffing shortage. The shop’s last day open was Oct. 13. Coffee By Design’s two other Portland retail locations and its roastery, which sells coffee to some 650 stores and restaurants, will remain open.

Lindemann said business at the Congress Street location was hurt badly by the pandemic and continues to suffer from an apparent lack of office workers in downtown Portland looking for a morning fix of caffeine. The company’s overall financial performance was further diminished in June when the Coffee By Design location at L.L. Bean in Freeport was forced to close because of planned renovations there.

“It meant more financial pressure on the other stores and on the roastery,” Lindemann said in an interview Monday. “It was a perfect storm of factors. I was trying to do some creative things to hold on to it as long as we could, because I believe in retail.”

In a news release announcing the closing, Lindemann said the decision was not made lightly and came after “years of this location barely breaking even.”

The location’s closing had nothing to do with workers at all Coffee By Design locations recently announcing their intent to form a union, said Lindemann, and company management has filed paperwork to voluntarily recognize the effort of about 20 baristas. The organizer working with the employees, Jason J. Shedlock of Local 327 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, also said that factors that led to the closing were “in the works” before the union effort.


Lindemann and her then-husband Alan Spear founded Coffee By Design on Congress Street in July 1994, in an area that then included a pornographic theater called The Fine Arts and several adult video stores. The State Theatre had just been renovated into a music venue but had been a porn theater too a few years earlier. Many storefronts and whole blocks were vacant.

“When we heard (Coffee By Design) was opening, we were ready to dance in the street. It was exactly what we needed. We knew if a place like Coffee By Design chose to come here then others would come too,” said Jim Neal, who ran the Drop Me A Line card and book shop near the State Theatre from 1990 to 2004, with partner Roger Mayo. “The fancy coffee drink thing was just starting, so we knew having them locate here would help change the image. Coffee By Design accelerated the change of that area into the Arts District, as much as the State Theatre or anyone else.”

Michael Levine, who opened the Oak Street Theatre a couple blocks off Congress Street in 1994, said he felt it was “brave and bold” of Lindemann and Spear to open a gourmet coffee shop in that spot at that time. He and others in the theater community were happy to have a place to go, and Coffee By Design became a sponsor of many shows at Oak Street Theatre.

“Mary Allen has been committed since the start to being one of the biggest donors to arts in the city. It’s much more than a coffee shop to so many organizations,” said Levine.

Ellen Murphy of Portland’s West End said she doubts she’ll find another local coffee shop that feels as welcoming to her, not just because of the workers, but because of the company’s local philanthropy. It’s been a regular hangout for her since she moved to Portland from New York City in 2008 – a place to see familiar faces, grab a coffee while doing errands or just get out of the house for a few minutes.

“It’s the same as a favorite neighborhood bar or restaurant, just very welcoming. You have a cup of coffee and people say hello,” said Murphy. “I like that they’re local; I like their ethos.”


Darcy Halvorsen of South Portland became a devotee of the Congress Street shop when it first opened – she was working at Mercy Hospital in the West End and stopped in often. Now she works in Scarborough but still visits the shop a couple times a week, to have coffee ground up to bring home. Even though Coffee by Design coffee is sold in supermarkets in Maine, Halvorsen likes to have employees grind it for her.

“They always had such wonderful people there, they never made you feel rushed,” said Halvorsen.

Lindemann, who became the company’s sole owner about a year ago, said the Congress Street location was down to about two to three regular staff members when it closed. She said those employees were given jobs at the other retail locations, on Diamond Street in East Bayside and on India Street in the East End. The roastery is also on Diamond Street. The company had its roastery and a coffee shop on Washington Avenue until 2019, but closed that location after it sold the building.

Staff Writer Tim Cebula contributed to this story. 

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