Rainbow Bicycle and Fitness, an independent bicycle shop, officially celebrated the grand opening of its new location in Downtown Lewiston last week. City officials, friends and local bike enthusiasts were on hand to celebrate. Owner John Grenier, who purchased the business in 1998, moved the store from its former location on the busy corridor of outer Center Street to its new, in-town location in mid-November.
“I think the downtown is still in the early stages of a massive revitalization,” said Grenier. “There’s a huge amount of positive energy here. We wanted to be a leader rather than a follower, and the support from the other businesses here along Lisbon Street has made all the difference in our decision.”
Perhaps best known as the home of the Reid and Hughes Department Store from 1953 to 1982, the store’s new venue at 97 Lisbon Street has housed a number of businesses through the years. Music Works occupied the building until moving to Auburn in 1989, and more recent tenant Drapeau’s Costumes of Maine moved to Lisbon in 2007. All occupants have taken advantage of the large plate-glass windows at the front of the store.
“What attracted me to the building was the massive glass frontage,” said Grenier. “The new store is broken into two sections: the bike side is perfect for bicycle displays and inventory presentation, while the café side is great for sitting and people-watching.”
Grenier and manager Jared Buckingham began looking for a potential new location in early 2011 to take advantage of to a number of unique opportunities.
“When we started looking at our demographics, it was obvious that an overwhelming majority of our clients came to the store by vehicle, which kind of goes against what we are trying to promote,” said Grenier. “When this building became available at auction, we saw an opportunity to reach a new audience, where people could walk or bike in but still take advantage of the natural beauty of the area, including the mills, the river, and the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Actively involved in promoting all aspects of cycling, the business helped found the Maine Cycling Club and the Lake Auburn Road Race, coordinates mechanical support for the Dempsey Challenge, the Trek Across Maine, and the Optimist Club’s Bike Rodeo, and serves as the primary organizer for the Downeast Cyclocross Weekend.
“Imagine the years of neglect and damage that existed in this space until recently,” said Chip Morrison of The Chamber. “But a new tone is being set. As this business continues to expand, I think what you’ll see here is commitment to this community for the long haul.”
Encompassing nearly 5,600 square-feet, the new space is large enough to accommodate an extensive inventory of bicycle-related products, while another 5,600 square feet remains unused on the bottom floor on the back side of the building. Grenier said he hopes to either expand services on the ground floor in the future or lease the space to an entrepreneur in need of a jump start.
“Because of the additional foot and vehicle traffic that could be generated by the Riverfront Island Master Plan, this could be a very cool opportunity for the right tenant who wants to take advantage of the Canal Street frontage,” Grenier said.
The Local Grind Café is Grenier’s latest addition to an evolving business plan. The space is designed to be comfortable and inviting, featuring free wireless internet for customers and ample room for those looking to relax for an extended period of time.
“Our customers tend to support businesses that invest back into their community,” said Grenier. “So we wanted to set up a venue where, while doing some business downtown, they could take a break, kick back with their lap top, and not feel pressured to rush back out the door.”
The café will serve Maine roasted coffee from Wicked Joe’s of Brunswick. To go with their coffees, espressos and lattes, customers will be able to choose from bagels, scones, muffins and other light snacks. Plans call for wraps, soups and sandwiches in the coming months.
Grenier stressed the importance of using local resources, often overlooked by new and existing businesses.
“Gabrielle Russell of Smith Reuter Lull Architects, located just a few doors down from us, was instrumental in the design of our floor plan,” he said. “It was our intent all along to support our neighbors during this process, and we were able to use local builders for all of the renovations.”
“Financially, this project cost more than we anticipated,” he added. “But the city of Lewiston was able to assist us with their façade grant and low interest rehab loan programs.”
Lincoln Jeffers, Economic and Community Development Director for the City of Lewiston, noted the importance of using city resources to create new loan and grant opportunities to help businesses locate downtown.
“Downtown Lewiston has some great structural bones,” said Jeffers. “But when some of these older buildings are opened up, it’s not unusual to run into some hiccups. The city’s low interest loan program, combined with the façade improvement, life safety loan, and elevator grant programs, can help mitigate those unexpected impacts.”
Jeffers pointed to the recent development of downtown properties, most notably along Ash and Lisbon Streets, as evidence that the city is on the right track.
“As least in terms of perception, downtowns are often considered to be a measure of a community’s vitality,” said Jeffers. “Given the roughly $67 million in private sector investment by our local business leaders into the area since 2010, I think it’s safe to say we are headed in the right direction.”
“In fact,” he added, “with the recent surge of housing activity on the upper floors along Lisbon Street, the $9 million investment into the Lofts at Bates Mill, the $7.8 million investment into Healey Estates, and a number of other major construction projects already in progress, I think we are in the midst of a massive transformation in the heart of our community.”
For more information, see www.Rainbowbike.com.