St. John Valley

A look back at the top business stories of 2019

Editor’s Note: The following is the first of two articles highlighting some of the top news stories from 2019. This article highlights events from January to June. The second installment will appear in the Jan. 1 issue.



Steve Chabot, co-owner of Runaway Bride in Fort Kent displays a new bridal gown available at the Fort Kent shop on Dec. 4, 2018. (Jessica Potila | SJVT)

A new boutique in Fort Kent, Runaway Bride Bridal Boutique, opened for business to dress women and men in styles ranging from formal to everyday wear. Runaway Bride, located at 178 West Main St. right next to the post office, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Selectmen decided to appoint a committee to examine how the town can best utilize the newly acquired downtown plaza. Since owners donated the downtown plaza property — located next to the former Kmart — to the town, municipal officials have brainstormed ideas of how the gift can best benefit the community and fit into its revitalization plans.


The Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce awarded local businesses and recognized Kelly Martin as the 2018 Citizen of the Year at its 71st annual dinner on Friday, Feb. 1, at the Knights of Columbus Hall. A committee of more than 20 former Citizen of the Year honorees voted unanimously by secret ballot to elect Martin from a list of nominees.

Madawaska selectmen on Feb. 11 denied Twin Rivers Paper Co.’s request for a more than $100 million abatement on its 2018 tax assessment.The town assessed the mill property at $178,069,925, but in its abatement application, which was filed on Jan. 16, Twin Rivers argued that the property has “a just value of no more than $72 million as of April 1, 2018.” Among the reasons cited on the application, Twin Rivers said that the town’s assessment of the mill property was 92 percent higher than the previous year’s valuation when it paid $1,883,169 in taxes. Under that assessment, the mill would have paid about $1.7 million more in taxes this year than the previous year. 


The new owners of Doris’ Cafe in Fort Kent said they are “embracing the traditionalism” of the popular restaurant, so customers can expect few changes to their dining experience. Doris’ Cafe is located at 345 Market St., in the same building as the post office.

Joey Nelson, left, and his wife, Nicole Chasse Nelson, whip up breakfasts as the new owners of Doris’ Cafe in Fort Kent on Tuesday, Feb. 19. (Jessica Potila | SJVT)

Twin Rivers Paper Co. filed an appeal with the state in hopes of getting a more than $1.5 million tax break from the town of Madawaska. In a press release issued March 11, Twin Rivers Paper Co. CEO Ken Winterhalter said that the “town leaders made it clear they were done talking when they presented us with a tax bill of more than double what Twin Rivers paid for 2017. In addition to being grossly inflated, the appraisal that formed the basis of the assessment was conducted in violation of Maine law by an appraiser who is unlicensed in the state of Maine,” repeating an allegation made in the initial request to the town for the abatement. 


A St. Francis mother and daughter officially opened clothing store Labels LLC in Fort Kent. Jolene and Kaylee Gardner offer new and used clothing for women and men in the old Miller’s Department Store building. Labels also will feature a small selection of refurbished furniture by Kixsie Art, the owner of which is local artist Shelley Bruey. Labels is located at 143 West Main St.

A family-owned and operated Allagash business of more than 40 years is the 2019 recipient of the Maine Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Business of the Year award. Tylor and Leitha Kelly first opened Tylor Kelly’s Camps in 1987. The couple’s son, Wade Kelly, along with Wade’s wife, Sue Underhill Kelly, own and operate the business with help from Sue’s children. They offer year-round guided hunting and fishing trips, canoe rentals, riverfront lodging and transportation and shuttles for people paddling the Allagash and St. John rivers.

More than 125 Valley Rivers Middle School students met with community employees representing a variety of occupations who volunteered to speak with the seventh and eighth-graders during a Career Breakfast at the school on April 11. The event introduced students to first-hand information about what it takes to prepare for and work in such industries as forestry, construction trades, law enforcement, social services, hospitality, health, education, business, arts and communications.


Mitchell Daigle, technology innovation lab instructor at the St. John Valley Technology Center, provides a demonstration to Valley Rivers Middle School learners during a Career Breakfast on Thursday, April 11. Students are, from left: Mitchell Harvey,  Richard Leclair,  Isaiah Martin, Carter Beaulieu, and Nicholas Griffeth. (Jessica Potila | SJVT)

More than 750 people had walked through the doors of the Multi Purpose Center in Madawaska to visit the 30th annual Top O’Maine Trade Show. The Multi Purpose Center was lined with booths from end to end. Behind all the rows of booths was the food court where groups, like the Valley Mustangs, set up concession stands to raise money for their organizations. 

Last summer, 42 children from Van Buren had fun-filled days after the Knights of Columbus and local area businesses gave away bicycles on May 26 at the Knights of Columbus hall. James Lapointe, the Faithful Navigator of the 4th degree Van Buren Knights of Columbus, said he wanted to find a way to get kids outside and be more active this summer. So, he came up with the idea of a summer fun giveaway.  


When five friends opened Fort Kent’s first brewery, they had no idea just how successful their new business venture would become. David Saucier, Travis Jandreau, Travis Guy, Matt Deprey and Dr. Rodney Lahren all have full-time professions outside the brewery, but share a passion for craft beer. They decided to turn this shared hobby into First Mile Brewing Co., which they opened in a former grain warehouse on Market Street in late November 2017. First Mile started canning their beers for sale at its Market Street site.

Shoppers congregate at the yard sale at this Madawaska house during the fifth annual Community-Wide Yard Sale held June 8. (Morgan Mitchell | SJVT)

Community members from Grand Isle to Sinclair opened up their garages and set their treasures in their yards to be scouted out by shoppers during the 5th annual Community-Wide Yard Sale over the weekend of June 8-9 in the Valley. This year, 50 people participated in the annual event hosted by Madawaska Chamber of Commerce, according to Jenn Collin, chamber director. 

Pelletier Sanitation Inc. of Fort Kent placed a post on its company Facebook page seeking new employees on a Tuesday, but by the next Wednesday afternoon, the trash collection service announced on the same page that it was going out of business.

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