The top business stories of 2019 in northern Aroostook
Editor’s Note: The following is the second of two articles highlighting some of the top business stories from 2019. This article highlights events from July to December. January-June highlights were published Dec. 25.
“Crossings,” a long anticipated arrival on the Fort Kent nightlife scene, opened at the site of the old Bee Jay’s Tavern, which closed during the summer of 2018 after serving the area for nearly half a century. Dr. John Hotchkiss, a radiologist at Northern Maine Medical Center, vowed to breathe new life into the iconic tavern but also to maintain much of its history when he purchased the building and announced that he would open Crossings at the site.
Vehicles lined both sides of Village Road as hundreds of loved ones turned out to the 11th annual Family Picnic at Crosswinds Residential Care in Fort Kent. The center has 45 residents but volunteers prepared food for 275-300 guests as is the usual turnout at the annual celebration, according to Crosswinds administrator Cathy Roy.
Fourteen residents of St. Joseph’s Memory Care in Frenchville enjoyed an afternoon of riding in style as members of the Northern Cruisers Auto Club escorted them around town in classic cars on Thursday, July 11. “The smiles on the residents’ faces were absolutely priceless. They enjoyed every moment of it,” said St. Joseph’s activities facilitator Hannah Voisine.
On any Thursday or Sunday at Music in the Park, either in Grand Isle or Madawaska, you will find a small white food trailer with a line of people that extends across the park. It’s the locally famous Maine-ly Meat ‘n Potatoes food truck. The truck got its start in 2014 when the Acadian Congress was looking for people to serve food in anticipation of feeding the “hordes of people.” Rita and Daniel Dionne accepted the challenge and began their quest to get certified to sell food out of a truck. While the Acadian Congress did not bring in the numbers expected, Mainely Meat ‘n Potatoes was ready for anything and the business took off.
The three United Steelworkers local unions rejected the latest contract offer from Twin Rivers Paper Co. during a meeting held at Madawaska Middle High School. While the official terms of the rejected contract were not known, sources said that some of the main reasons workers weren’t happy included wages, working conditions and workload.
When Brandon Smith purchased the B and M Apartments in Fort Kent at the end of 2016, he had in mind a five-year plan to renovate the dilapidated 30-unit property. Three years later, that plan is well underway. Smith, a Caribou resident who owns and operates B.S. Carpentry, has so far completed major repairs within the East Main Street apartment complex. As anyone who has driven or walked by the B and M apartment complex most likely noticed, the two buildings comprising the complex are undergoing major changes as well.
The three United Steelworkers locals at Twin Rivers Paper Mill ratified a four-year contract with the mill ending weeks of negotiations. Staff representative Michael Higgins said in a statement that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement “guarantees wages, benefits and working conditions which are superior to most of the paper industry across the United States. … The mill in Madawaska has seen many years of uncertainty, changes of ownership and concessions,” Higgins said. “For this reason, many of our members were willing to put their livelihoods on the line, by forcing a strike vote, in order to provide a better life for their families.”
One week after the Land Use Planning Commission approved J.D. Irving’s plan to rezone 51,000 acres from general management to residential and commercial, Irving says leaseholders do not have to worry about their land being sold out from under them. Irving’s 30-year plan calls for close to 330 new development units, and conserving nearly 17,000 acres that can still be used for logging around four of northern Aroostook’s major lakes: Cross, Square, Long and Mud. The rezoning would allow for much of Irving’s land to be available primarily for commercial or residential development. However, Irving Woodlands director of land development Anthony Hourihan said the company has no plans in the near future to sell its land.
The St. John Valley Chamber of Commerce welcomed Sharon Boucher as the new Chamber director to replace outgoing director Jenn Collin at the end of September. Boucher is no stranger to the Valley. As a Madawaska native, Boucher left in 1990 and began working at the Greater Bangor Chamber of Commerce. She worked at the Chamber for seven years where she ended her time there at the peak of acting president.
Julie Rayder’s kitchen is not only used to feed her family of five, it also doubles as a work space for making soap. Rayder, owner of Nutritious Skin, started making natural, dye-free soap from local ingredients 4 ½ years ago after taking an interest at craft fairs. In the last four years, Rayder has worked at perfecting her art of soap making, has become an administrator for an international Facebook group, and still produces her own YouTube videos for a shared channel with 9,000 subscribers about different soap-making techniques including her innovative screen lift swirl where she uses a screen to create her designs.
The Fort Kent Public Library has a new roof thanks to the volunteer efforts of Masonic Lodge No. 209, employees of 4D Carpentry and community members who contributed to the library’s capital fundraiser campaign. The library’s volunteer board of trustees kicked off the capital campaign in February with the hopes of raising $20,000 locally. A $1,500 donation from the Masons as well as the in-kind donations of free roofing labor helped the fundraiser to surpass the $20,000 goal.
The General Service Administration issued a notice Oct. 4 that informed of its decision to go with Alternative C for the Madawaska International Bridge, which requires the acquisition of the current McDonald’s property — uprooting the fast food franchise. Officials with the Maine and New Brunswick transportation agencies, engineering consultants and other representatives from U.S. and Canadian agencies unveiled plans in January to build the new bridge extending from the existing bridge’s location in Edmundston and ending about 1,300 feet up the St. John River from the existing port of entry in Madawaska.
Madawaska has a new restaurant in town after the St. John Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 26 at Route 1 BBQ at the Gateway Motel. While the restaurant is attached to the motel, the separate entrance leads patrons to a large dining area where they can sit and enjoy the eatery’s specialty smoked Memphis-style ribs, pulled pork and soon-to-come brisket.
A master plan to upgrade facilities at the University of Maine at Fort Kent campus is well underway following a bond initiative Maine voters passed last year to modernize facilities at the seven public university campuses. University officials have been meeting regularly with architects from Oak Point Associates of Biddeford, who are tasked with designing a nearly 6,000-square foot Enrollment and Advancement Center — the first phase of major construction projects at the university. The center will be the face of the university on Pleasant Street in Fort Kent once completed. The building will house the university admissions office, development office, communications office and enrollment manager.
Cornhole has returned to the Valley with a semi-permanent home at Route 1 BBQ in Madawaska. Economic Development Director Keith Cyr said he and Recreation Department Director Sam Cyr were approached by a few citizens in the fall asking if there was a way to continue the pastime in the winter months. Shortly after Sam Cyr was hired, the town reached out to Route 1 BBQ where the restaurant has enough space inside to accommodate the game. Last week was the first week the restaurant hosted the game and about 10 people showed up to play. The event is free to the public and will be held every Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.
Jessica Libby of Mapleton took over the popular Aroostook County business, Plourde’s Donuts, which her grandmother Christy Plourde began operating more than half a century ago. Plourde, 84, still has the receipt from the fryer and buckets she purchased in October 1965 from her own aunt, Isabel Bouchard, who used to make the doughnuts from her home on Market Street in Fort Kent before moving to Massachusetts. Libby will make the doughnuts at her new home business in Mapleton, Lil J’s Kitchen.
The Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce held its 39th annual Arts and Crafts Fair. Nearly 120 crafters participated in the fair, which Chamber executive director Dona Saucier said brought in more than 2,000 people, with 1,362 attending on Saturday, breaking the fair’s single-day attendance record.