Where's the Main St. in Maine?
November 27, 2012 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Where in Maine can I find a classic Main Street atmosphere within commuting distance from Freeport and Portland.

I'll keep it short and sweet:

Where can I find a village or town, within commuting distance of Freeport, ME, with a walkable downtown lined with restaurants, shops, etc. The ideal would be something like Main St. in Freeport, but with local businesses instead of outlets.

I've been in Maine for almost two months now and I'm kind of shocked at how difficult it is to come by this kind of quaint, New England-y atmosphere.

posted by kmtiszen to Travel & Transportation around Freeport, ME (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you want the Old Port. Particularly, Exchange Street.
posted by zizzle at 9:47 AM on November 27, 2012

I mean, if you want go further south, you could hit up Kennebunkport, too.

But here's the thing --- most of the area you say you want (between Freeport and Portland) is more ex-urban than small New England town. So outside of Freeport, Portland, and the Mall in South Portland, for that area --- there really isn't much of what you describe.

The Old Port comes close, though it is downtown Portland. Kennebunkport is an option. And then if you want a trip north Boothbay Harbor could work, too.

Though I guess Brunswick now has a lot of what you're looking for, too. So I'll throw Brunswick in there as well.
posted by zizzle at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2012

Thanks, Zizzle. Old Port has a great vibe, but I'm thinking more along the lines of outside the city.
posted by kmtiszen at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2012

Hallowell, ME. It's about 45 minutes away and is Maine's smallest city. There's a slew of little shops up and down Water Street, plus some nice places to eat. Very quaint.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2012

I really enjoyed my years living in Kittery, ME, but it's about 45 minutes from Portland. Also definitely check out York. There's not much of a downtown but there's a little town center and it feels Main Street-y, and it's closer to Portland.
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on November 27, 2012

Bath is much less ritzy than Kennebunkport, but does have a cute, walkable Main St. with lots of shops.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:58 AM on November 27, 2012

Kennebunkport is lots of rich-people boutiques and shops. Downtown Kennebunk itself is much more of the quaint downtown scene.

I used to like downtown Brunswick, too, but I don't know if there's much to see there anymore.
posted by briank at 9:59 AM on November 27, 2012

I personally would start with Maine Street in Brunswick since it's close. You can check out the Bowdoin College campus too.

Then I would go right up Maine and across the bridge to the Sea Dog and have a lobster roll or some fried clams, and a few pints. It's not "quaint" like you won't see any boats full of whale oil coming in, but you'll see a lot of authentic, cheerful, red-cheeked Mainers having a great time and bein' friendly.
posted by ftm at 10:05 AM on November 27, 2012

Bridgeton may be smaller than you want but it does have a lovely little downtown. Or Naples, the walk along the water is nice with plenty of restaurants. Check out the lakes region in general; depending on where exactly you live it's 45-60 minutes to Portland or Freeport.

(Personally I'm partial to my hometown of Raymond, but even though it's got a few great shops and restaurants, it's not really walkable.)
posted by hungrybruno at 10:09 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can really choose between an artificially-maintained "Main Street" for the benefit or tourist shoppers, or a much less pretty area. Most of the really pretty areas (Camden, etc) are more of the former (although not as soulless as Freeport).

I think it's hard to find a nice balance between the two, although I would consider South Portland if I was in your shoes: it's a cool town with some nice local businesses.

Hallowell is interesting because it exists as a sort of upmarket suburb of the (somewhat horrible) Augusta for those who can afford it. I think Gardiner is neat as well (and it has a great diner). That's on the outer limit of commuting distance, though.

(Full disclosure: I live in Westbrook, which is not a visually appealing place, but has probably the most actually useful business within walking distance of anywhere I've lived in Maine).
posted by selfnoise at 10:09 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bath and Brunswick are interesting suggestions, but despite being a Portlander for more than a decade now, I'm not very familiar with either. Yarmouth has some appeal, but the actual down town isn't very old New England at all. South Portland has some amazing neighborhoods, but nothing at all like a classic New England town.

I think the difficulty might be that you're looking for something that doesn't really exist in the way you imagine? Are you new to New England? What, exactly, are your expectations?
posted by that's candlepin at 10:30 AM on November 27, 2012

Yarmouth has a cute but very small downtown.

I visited Bath recently and was surprised by how adorable it is but depending on where you're going in Portland it could be a longish commute.
posted by mskyle at 10:32 AM on November 27, 2012

Rockland and Camden have what you describe, but may be a bit far for a commute.
posted by JanetLand at 10:42 AM on November 27, 2012

I asked another friend who is also from that area.

She said, "I think that person is looking for Vermont."
posted by zizzle at 11:01 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:45 AM on November 27, 2012

I realize Portsmouth isn't in Maine, of course.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:50 AM on November 27, 2012

No, but when I lived in Kittery I spent a lot of time in Portsmouth, and it has everything you want. It's essentially one with Southern Maine.
posted by Miko at 11:53 AM on November 27, 2012

Maybe the poster should define max commuting distance/time? Portsmouth to Freeport is close to an hour and a half one way.
posted by selfnoise at 12:21 PM on November 27, 2012

I am cringing as I write this, but Lewiston may be worth checking out (I grew up there). A lot of it is crappy dead mill town/strip malls but from what I hear there are some really cool local businesses in the downtown area now and they are really trying to make it more vibrant. Like Brunswick, it also has a college smack in the center of town (Bates). It is far from quaint, though. Commuting to Portland or Freeport from Lewiston is probably 30-40 minutes.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 12:33 PM on November 27, 2012

Nthing Brunswick. I find it a lot prettier and more spread out than Hallowell in terms of nice neighborhoods to live in, the college campus, etc. Plus you have closer access to Freeport/Portland, and in the summer, Reid State Park and Popham Beach.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:36 PM on November 27, 2012

Both Bath and Brunswick are in commuting distance (Bath to Portland is a longer commute, but a doable one) of those places, and have the kind of main streets you seem to be looking for. Both have walkable downtowns and independent shops, though Brunswick is a bit larger, and has more restaurants and cultural events (largely due to the college). The Amtrak Downeaster line has also just started service to Brunswick, which might make the Portland commute easier.

Please be aware, though, that the phrase "quaint, New England-y atmosphere" sounds pretty condescending to people who are from those places, and will not endear you to other residents.
posted by dizziest at 1:03 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

A place like Brunswick (largeish small town) might be easier to settle in as a newcomer than a much smaller place, too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:09 PM on November 27, 2012

I also think that what you're looking for (the sort of "Christmas Story" downtown with lots of locally owned but non touristy shops) doesn't really exist. The Old Port, downtown Portsmouth, or downtown Bath are the closest that I know of. You might also enjoy the area in Portland on Munjoy Hill where India street meets Congress (say, from Franklin up to the Observatory).

Hallowell is beautiful, and has a nice walkable downtown (be sure to eat at Slate's) but pretty much exists as a big antiques mall maintained for the benefit of visitors. You might also try Belfast (although there was just an article in Down East calling Belfast "Maine's Coolest City" so that's out.) Downtown Bar Harbor also has an extensive, totally walkable downtown, but of course that also exists mainly as a tourist destination, and is far outside your one-hour limit.

Living in Portland, a one hour drive cuts you off from most of the state, you know. If you want to try Brunswick for a start, you might want to try the new train.
posted by anastasiav at 1:21 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in Portland and commute to Brunswick, and as far as I've experienced, it has one of the few surviving main streets in southern Maine. Most of the businesses are pretty small, on Maine street, but there are quite a few larger chain stores outbid town a bit.

Commuting to Freeport would be super nice. It's a bit hairy from Portland.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:48 PM on November 27, 2012

Yarmouth is quite nice and convenient.
posted by sully75 at 2:44 PM on November 27, 2012

Thanks for all of your answers! I think I may have overstated things a bit with my original question. Not looking for a Norman Rockwell painting, but the kind of place with a sense of community gathered around a single, walkable area. I guess walkable is the real operative word here.
posted by kmtiszen at 5:30 PM on November 27, 2012

This is going to be complicated by your housing needs. Housing in Yarmouth is not cheap, and finding a place (to buy - no idea about rental market) close to Main St will be hard. Likewise, my impression is that there's not a lot of downtown housing in Brunswick, but I might be wrong. Can't really comment on Bath. Those seem to me like the three options that best fit.

Other places like Gorham or Cumberland might be worth a look-see as well.
posted by that's candlepin at 7:00 AM on November 28, 2012

I live in Westbrook as well, so take that into account. But I think it hits a lot of what you are looking for. Main Street (actually named Main street) stretches for a couple of miles. Along Main street or very close you have:

(starting at the outer end)
Deli where you can get sandwiches or meat
doctor offices
Tattoo shop
Bigger sports/pub type restaurant
Anime Shop
Outdoor pool (seasonal) and basketball court, baseball fields, etc.
Eurpoean Food store
Pizza place
Police/Fire station
Subway franchise
bagel place
barber shop
burrito place
big park with playground along the river
chinese food
seafood/lobster shop (seasonally)
italian restaurant
dunkin donuts
pizza place
post office
library/house where i used to live
fancy ice cream place
second-hand store
martial arts studio
hardware store
indian food
mexican food
art gallery
Iranian shop
pizza place
better chinese food
old converted mill that houses artists, including a big photography collective and other things - acting company, etc.

I'm leaving out a few things like the banks and whatnot, but it is very walkable. There is also a major grocery store you can walk to (they just improved the sidewalks/pedestrian crossings there).

And while it may not look "New Englandy" as say, Kennebunk, it definitely has that community feel. Little League and soccer are big. The local businesses are always sponsoring things. They have a Memorial Day parade and shut down Main St for a Halloween party. There are concerts and plays in the park in the summer. They have a "Together Days" carnival in June. There is a new winter festival coming in January. The new community center (about 1.5 miles from the center of Main Street) has exploded with great new programming. Santa comes on a fire truck to light the little tree in the park, with the high school band playing carols and so on.

I've lived in Westbrook for over eight years. It's a former mill town - the paper mill still operates, but on a much more limited basis (they make fancier paper things - there is no typical paper mill smell). All along I've felt like it was a downtown teetering on the edge of making it or not and at various times it seemed like it might not make it. Lately, I think it's turned a corner and has a solid footing and will keep moving forward. If you want to get involved in the community there are dozens of way to do so.

It is adjacent to Portland and just six miles from the Old Port area. It's an easy hop on to 95 up to Freeport, or you can take the back roads part or all of the way. I've biked to work in Portland for the past seven years and that is a great option as well.

Feel free to email me if have any questions! It's not as convenient to Freeport as Brunswick, which is another great choice, but worth an afternoon to check out in my opinion.
posted by mikepop at 7:16 AM on November 28, 2012

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