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Maine’s Downtowns Offer Cultural, Economic and Recreational Draws

Discover Maine's booming downtowns that are increasingly attracting young entrepreneurs, creative class workers and young professionals with their cultural, economic and recreational opportunities.

By Laura Hill on September 25, 2015

Elegant cuisine. Film festivals. Nightlife. Boutique shopping. Fascinating people. Sound like a big city? Welcome to the downtown centers of Maine, where locals can enjoy all of this and still be within minutes of wilderness, ski slopes and shoreline.
Known for generations as one of the country’s legendary vacation spots, Maine is increasingly luring entrepreneurs, creative class workers and young professionals who come to stay. These new residents are drawn to the state’s beautiful, walkable downtowns, where they can find a slower pace of life along with a welcoming economic vibe.
“They can enjoy incredible outdoor recreation opportunities in all four seasons, choose from a variety of cultural offerings and be part of a vibrant community,” says Carolann Ouellette, director of the state’s office of tourism. “Young professionals and entrepreneurs like the idea of knowing they live in a place where they can start their own business, or support businesses that provide personal service to the people they live among.”
Slower, Yet Sophisticated
In Maine’s towns and cities, slower doesn’t mean sleepy, as cities like Bangor, Portland, Freeport, Lewiston, Auburn and Augusta demonstrate. Sophisticated amenities and cultural opportunities abound, and both residents and visitors find what they’re looking for, reflected in the 10.4 percent growth in Maine’s tourism in 2014.
“We have seen Maine’s culinary scene take on a life of its own with top chefs opening restaurants, and craft breweries, wineries and spirit makers opening businesses throughout the state,” Ouellette says. “Artists and craftspeople are setting up galleries and shops, and historic buildings are being renovated and brought to life again.”
The Strand Theatre in Rockland, for example, was renovated in 2004 and is now a multi-use venue that hosts live theater, music, dance and films. In Lewiston, the nonprofit Grow L+A is working to turn the historic Bates Mill Five into an exciting Five to Farm center for technology and food growth and distribution.
Flourishing Film and Music Scene
Live music is thriving in Maine’s cities and towns. Portland and Bangor both are home to waterfront concerts. In Freeport, the annual L. L. Bean Summer in the Park concert series brings major musical acts to town, including the Mavericks, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Rosanne Cash in 2015.
Film is a growing industry in Maine, in terms of both its popularity as a shooting location, and the number and quality of its film festivals. The Camden International Film Festival has been cited as one of the top 25 documentary festivals in the U.S. The Maine Jewish Film Festival, founded in 1998, is another of the state’s best-known film events, bringing artists from around the country and the world to Portland each year. The Emerge Festival has already become a huge success in its second year, presenting independent films by both Maine and out-of-state filmmakers at several venues in Lewiston and Auburn.
“Maine as a state is known for loving and supporting their arts,” says Karen Carberry Warhola, director of the state’s film office. “So it’s not surprising that we would have a large film industry. And it just keeps on growing.”
Easy Outdoor Escapes
Of all the benefits of life in Maine’s lovely, livable downtowns, one of the biggest is the ability to quickly reach world-class outdoor recreational destinations. The numerous beaches of Maine’s coastal communities are easy to explore, and the surrounding countryside offers a wealth of hiking, biking and nature-watching opportunities. From Bangor, Acadia National Park and Moosehead Lake are just a little more than an hour’s drive. Portland is just an hour and a half from the Sunday River resort and 30 minutes from hiking and biking trails near Freeport. And skiers love the proximity of Sugarloaf Ski Resort to Lewiston.
“In each region of our state, we have downtown centers that bring people together, allow them to have unique shopping and dining experiences, and in just a short drive they can ski and snowboard, fish, paddle or hike,” Ouellette says. “We know that Maine’s visitors enjoy the great outdoors and adventure. And at the end of the day, they want comfortable accommodations, a good meal and entertainment.”

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