Vivo owners buying Main Street Variety

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Joanie Wilson and James Burke of Bridgton are two Massachusetts transplants who just can’t seem to sit still. When, at the end of 2014, after 10 summers, they finally relocated here full-time, they spent the next six months restoring a building on Depot Street into an upscale bistro-style eatery, only to see it burn to the ground.

They spent the next four or five months rebuilding the Vivo Country Italian Kitchen and Bar and finally opened to rave reviews late last year. But if you think they’d stop there, in anticipation of a busy summer to come, you’d be wrong.

By the end of this month they’ll be buying the building housing Main Street Variety, with plans to completely restore it as a tavern or pub.

“We’re too young to retire — I can’t sit still for a minute,” said Wilson. And besides, how could they pass up such an opportunity?

“It’s the best location, I think, of anywhere in the downtown,” she said. “We want to make it beautiful again, and bring even more people to downtown Bridgton.”

At their meeting next Tuesday, Jan. 12, the Bridgton Board of Selectmen is expected to approve the couple’s request to purchase 660 gallons per day of sewer allocation — the last available amount before maxing out the capacity of the Dodge Leach Field. The Wastewater Committee recommended approval of the request at the beginning of their workshop Tuesday with selectmen. The current allocation for the 144 Main Street building is 240 gallons per day.

Wilson said in a Wednesday phone interview that she and Jim expect to close Jan. 24 on the sale with current building owners Arnold Packard and John Ridlon. For years, Ridlon has operated Main Street Variety, a popular sandwich shop and convenience store with 23 seats located next to Bridgton Books.

The building has a long-storied history as a former pub, dance hall, and post office location that Wilson is now busily researching, hoping to get ideas on the best way to restore it to its former glory. The building burned down in 1890, she said, and was rebuilt.

“I’d like to open it as either a pub or a tavern, but I’m not sure yet what the concept will be,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do inside that restaurant.” Knowing that its former use as the post office is still remembered by its location across from what is known as Post Office Square, Wilson said she’s toyed with the idea of calling their newest enterprise the Post Office Square Pub.

“We have a few names up in the air,” she said.

With a busy season expected over the summer at Vivo’s, Wilson said she doesn’t expect the new business to open until September or so. She expects Main Street Variety to be closing within a week or so after the sale becomes final. The Planning Board will need to review the change of use, and once approved the work will begin on the restoration.

“There’s a gorgeous fireplace in the back of that building, it’s 12 feet long,” said Wilson. “Imagine, it’s been hidden all these years?”

During discussion by the Wastewater Committee on the allocation, Chairman Glen “Bear” Zaidman said Wilson and Burke needed enough allocation for a 36-seat establishment. The allocation approval would be conditional on installation of a proper grease interceptor system and septic tank size, he said.

Wastewater Superintendant Jim Kidder, who also serves on the committee, said installing the new septic system would require disruption of the pavement in the shared parking lot behind Main Street Variety and Bridgton Books. He said it wasn’t much more than five years ago when the parking lot was repaved, so he hoped the patching wouldn’t create too much of a blemish.

Main Street Variety is known to be a favorite sandwich stop for author Stephen King when he visits Bridgton Books. Told about this, Wilson said, “Well, we’ll just have to make sure we keep his favorite sandwich on hand.”

 

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