Redneck Lounge in, Trailside out, and Blueberries & Me no more

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

BLUEBERRIES NO MORE — Elaine Kilborn stands outside the empty storefront window of her 118 Main Street, Bridgton store, Blueberries & ME, which has closed for good.

It used to be, Elaine Kilborn could comfortably close her specialty gift shop, Blueberries & ME, in downtown Bridgton over the winter, and open back up in late spring.

No more. Sales in July and August were way down over the previous year, and she relies on those two critical months to carry her throughout the year. So Kilborn, who has operated her shop on Main Street for a decade, has decided to close up shop for good.

“A lot of people walked through, but they were afraid to spend because of the economy,” said Kilborn, who ran her business for seven years at the Running With Scissors building, across the street from 118 Main Street, where she’s been located the past three years.

Last year, July sales were triple what they were the previous year, and August sales were four times the 2009 rate. “This year, that did not happen,” she said. In fact, she was down on sales every single month from May to August this year. “I’m down five figures,” she said. “And I don’t expect it to turn around next year either.”

Kilborn wishes she could hold out, but with losses like that, she just can’t justify it, she said. She said she was excited by the prospect of the Rufus Porter Museum moving to the former Gallinari building across the street, but it will take at least another year before museum volunteers can raise the money to realize their plan of operating an expanded museum and educational center.

A lot of good things are happening in downtown Bridgton, she said, like the new Bridgton Library Courtyard, which encourages foot traffic. Many people have come into her shop after sitting at the courtyard and noticing her shop across the street, she said.

But, again, they’re just not buying like they used to. “It’s such a shame, because Bridgton has such a great reputation for all its little shops and we have so many positive things here, like Pondicherry Park and the Courtyard,” she said. “I don’t know what Bridgton can do.”

Restaurants in transition

Meanwhile, outside of the immediate downtown, one restaurant has closed, while another has changed hands. Trailside Steak & Seafood Restaurant, a long-established eatery at 518 Portland Road, closed abruptly last week, so abruptly that employees reportedly weren’t even aware of its closing until they showed up for work and saw a sign on the door.

Restaurant owner Michael Luciano, reached by telephone, declined comment on the closing. Luciano had leased the building from Jack Dean of Brewer, who could not be reached for comment.

Up on Route 117, at the Commons Golf Driving Range and Restaurant owned by Bruce Billing, Janice Shane confirmed Tuesday that she will be relocating her Redneck Lounge there from the former Shakers Bar & Grill & Dance Club at 165 Casco Road in Naples. Shane will initially lease, but eventually plans to purchase the building where the Commons Restaurant, and more recently Mountainside Restaurant, had operated.

“We had a very successful first year” at the former Shakers, Shane said, but when she inquired about buying, the owners weren’t willing to sell, she said. So she and her husband Sid looked around, and settled on the smaller Route 117 space.

“We’ll have a full bar, a full restaurant, pool tables and a dance floor,” she said, plus live bands every few weeks or so. “It’s definitely going to be a more intimate space.” Shane said she will be seeking a change of use for the operation from the Bridgton Planning Board, and hopes to be open by the middle of October.

Jim Mains Jr., executive director of the Greater Bridgton-Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, said his organization tries to support small business by a combination of networking, training opportunities and linkups with financial resources. He said most members are reporting good summer traffic and sales, although many would agree with Kilborn’s assessment that summer folk aren’t in a very buying mood.

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