Shopping, sipping, and supping in and around Camden
Certain places are veritable lightning rods for talent, ingenuity, and entrepreneurialism. Although each is unique, all of these locations possess some surpassing quality that draws people in. In many cases, it’s the allure of economic opportunity, but in others it’s natural beauty or a strong sense of community. Camden, it just so happens, is blessed with all three. Every summer visitors from around the globe flock to downtown Camden, slowing traffic on Route One to a mere trickle. Even though the streets and sidewalks may be clogged, only a fraction of these travelers venture beyond the well-known attractions. Yet just around the bend, on back streets and in the neighboring townships, some of Maine’s finest offerings are waiting to be discovered…
Less than a ten-minute drive west of Camden is the town of Hope, which has experienced a remarkable rebirth over the past few years. A rapidly growing population has infused this formerly sleepy hamlet with new life and energy, and at the epicenter of this revival is the Hope General Store. Perched at a picturesque rural crossroads, the old building has been Hope’s general store since 1882, although it had been abandoned for six years when it was purchased, gutted, and completely renovated by its newest owner, Andrew Stewart. Hope General also doubles as the local post office, which makes it one of the few places left in Maine—if not the world—where you can buy a gallon of milk and ship a package from the same counter. Stewart, who is doing a brisk business in “Hope is hip” bumper stickers, cites the area’s diverse population as the foundation of the store’s success. “I probably sell as much Pabst Blue Ribbon as I do Veuve Clicquot (a $50 bottle of champagne),” says Stewart. In addition to 140 varieties of beer, Hope General carries English foods you won’t find anywhere else. Lunch goers who are not faint of stomach will not want to miss Stewart’s culinary homage to his Scottish heritage, the Scotman’s Auld Alliance, a hearty mixture of potatoes, beans, and sausage baked into a puff pastry. Before leaving Hope General, make sure to get directions to the town’s newest eatery, the Hatchet Mountain Publick House. “I don’t have a sign out front yet, we’re not in the phone book, and I haven’t advertised or put up a website,” says the owner Brian O’Neil. “Still, we’re full every night just with people who live within five miles of here.” The convivial atmosphere, open-air seating, and local color are among the main draws, but it’s the standout tavern fare that keeps customers coming back.
Two more not to be missed
Benjamin Leavitt Metalworker: Across the street from Hope General is the blacksmithing shop of Ben Leavitt, a consummate metalworker whose artistry brings a delicate touch to heavy material.
Hope Spinnery: Just up the road is Hope Spinnery, one of only a handful of small fiber mills in the country that process raw wool. The Spinnery also sells naturally dyed yarns and knitted products.
Most visitors get only a few miles north of Camden before turning around and heading back. Although many have missed the charms of Lincolnville, you need not be one of them. Among the town’s more popular attractions is the Cellardoor Vineyard. Maine’s first vineyard got off to a slow start, but the new co-owners, Bettina Doulton and John Tynan, have undertaken an extensive expansion, including a complete restoration of the gorgeous circa 1790s barn. Last year, the winery produced a record 5,600 gallons, and next year that figure is expected to double. Cellardoor produces 20 original wines and free wine tastings are poured all day. Visitors can take a tour or explore the vineyard on their own, so grab a bottle and bring along a picnic lunch to spread out amongst the vines. Don’t leave without trying the Amorosa—this versatile wine is complex enough to be served with a good meal, but its mellow sweetness makes it perfect as a dessert wine or chilled summer refreshment. If wine is not to your taste, the folks at Cellardoor may point you to Lincolnville’s other producer of fine alcoholic beverages, Andrew’s Brewing Company. Although owner Andy and his son Ben run the entire operation themselves, they are always happy to take a few moments and let you sample their selection. The brewery’s unusual double-fermentation method lengthens the brewing cycle by about six days but gives their beer a natural carbonation. Their signature products, the English Pale Ale and St. Nick’s Porter, are well worth the out-of-the-way drive, but make sure to try the Northern Brown Ale since it’s much harder to find.
Two more not to be missed
Canvas Bag Machine Company: For more than three decades, proprietor Barbara Demar has been making hand-sewn canvas bags that one local describes as “exquisite.” Customers keep coming back as much for Barbara’s endearing personality as for her bags, which come in a variety of traditional styles, including drawstrings, water buckets, swings, totes, and duffles. Youngtown Inn and Restaurant: Although locals tend to forget about it, anyone who has tried owner, chef, and French expatriate Manuel Mercier’s cuisine knows that it’s anything but forgettable.
Rockport has long been a breeding ground for Maine’s most innovative artists, and at the heart of this vibrant community is the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. Housed in the old Rockport firehouse, CMCA is at the forefront of the New England art scene. Last year the collective showed more than 500 artists—nearly all of them Maine residents—and the four galleries feature no less than three concurrent exhibitions all year long. Drop-in visitors will find something captivating to gaze upon, and the annual schedule features a cornucopia of openings, seminars, gallery talks, and lectures. Around the bend is one of Rockport’s best-kept secrets: Timothy Whelan Fine Photographic Books & Prints. Despite his humble, self-effacing manner, owner Tim Whelan commands an encyclopedic knowledge of photographic technique and history, and is considered by many to be an unofficial faculty member of Rockport’s renowned Maine Photographic Workshops. The store may be tiny, but Whelan’s generosity is big, and students and professors from the Workshops make regular pilgrimages to avail themselves of both his selection and his time. In the summer, Whelan can be found holding court over an impromptu salon frequented by such photographic luminaries as Paul Caponigro, Eugene Richards, and Joyce Tenneson.
Two more not to be missed
Carver Hill Gallery: In addition to its galleries of fine art, Carver Hill has a symbiotic relationship with Phi Home Designs, a custom furniture and construction company located on the property. This unique association makes Carver Hill “one-stop shopping” for those looking to build, furnish, and decorate a new home. Élan Fine Arts: Located in a stunningly renovated circa 1850 Baptist church across from Rockport Harbor, the towering ceilings make for an exhibition space as engrossing as the artwork it holds. Check their online calendar and stop by when owners Andrew and Ellen Eddy host their chamber music series—the acoustics alone make it worth the trip.
Tucked away in the old Knox Mill building off Main Street, visitors will find Josephine, an eclectic boutique carrying women’s clothing, home furnishings, and accessories for both the house and body. Josephine is far more than a shopping experience—it’s an evolving experiment in interior design and personal style. Owner Janet Kooyenga and her husband Kenny travel the world in search of exceptional items, yet their selection reflects a presiding aesthetic sensibility that loyal customers have come to trust. The personal touch seems to be working: the store has undergone two major expansions since it opened four years ago. In the words of owner Barrie Pribyl, “Our store is an opportunity to step back in time through the world of books.” And, indeed, ABCD Books is suffused with a soothing, Old World ambience that immediately renders the bustle of Camden center a distant memory. ABCD is no grab bag of discarded paperbacks, but a true collection of used and rare literature. Although the store carries books on every conceivable subject, it has a particularly strong selection of volumes on cooking and gardening, the poetry and prose of the 18th and 19th centuries, and Maine and nautical history. Just across the street from ABCD is one of Camden’s true treasures. In a mass-market culture that has become accustomed to off-the-shelf shopping, Fabrics de France is a rarity. Owner Yves Vitasse describes his store this way: “We do it the way they do in Europe.” Working in partnership with local artisans, Fabrics de France offers in-home consultations, upholstery services, and custom-designed products such as draperies and bedspreads. Vitasse is also the East Coast’s exclusive representative for the premier line of fabrics made by Toiles de Mayenne, a 200-year-old family-owned French fabric company.
Boynton-McKay Food Co.:
Located in Camden’s former drug store and apothecary, Boynton-McKay serves up great atmosphere and the best breakfast in town at a fair price.
Many restaurants have come and gone in this location, but Ephemere is there to stay. Hit the wine bar upstairs if you’re waiting for a table, and go for the caramelized scallops with risotto if it’s your last meal on Earth.
Small-town hospitality mixes with big-city atmosphere in what chef Brian Hill calls a “luxury experience in humble surroundings.” Francine’s elegant, pared-down menu changes daily, but always features local organic meat and produce, a house-baked sourdough, and the best cocktails around.
Plan ahead because the Hartstone Inn dining room accommodates only 20 people and reservations generally book up weeks in advance. Owner and chef Michael Salmon does only one seating and one five-course meal per night. Although each week’s menu is posted online, we suggest just showing up and experiencing each perfectly prepared course in a series of tantalizing surprises.
A beloved Camden institution. If your dinner roll tumbles off the table, look for it floating in Camden Harbor. Locals are guaranteed to see at least five friends, and newcomers are assured of a classic Maine meal that’s a cut above. For specific addresses and contact information, please refer to our Resource Guide. 1. Maiden’s Cliff
2. Merryspring Nature Park
3. Children’s Chapel
4. Aldermere Farm
5. Fernald’s Neck Preserve
6. Curtis Island
7. Carver Hill Gallery
8. Richard Remsen/The Foundry
9. Dan Daly/Dan Daly Studio
10. Benjamin Leavitt Metalworker
11. 10 High Street
12. Cellardoor Winery & Vineyard
13. Youngtown Inn & Restaurant
14. Boynton McKay Food Co.
15. Francine Bistro
16. Hartstone Inn
17. Hope General Store
18. Leather Bench
19. ABCD Books
20. Owl & Turtle Bookshop
22. Timothy Whelan Fine Photographic Books
23. Hope Spinnery
24. Hatchet Mountain Public House
25. Hardy Farms Apple Orchard