It All Adds Up
FIELD TRIP – July 2012 – Abacus
by Veronique Mcaree | Photgraphy Amanda Kowalsi
While there’s no shortage of stylish retail destinations in Maine, Abacus Gallery is one-stop shopping for fine American crafts.
Can two Rhode Island School of Design graduates with degrees in architecture and graphic design adapt to the fickle world of retail? Yes, if they happen to have the taste, talent, and style of Dana Heacock and Sal Scaglione. Since the two partners opened their first Abacus Gallery nearly four decades ago (repeat: four decades!), it has evolved into a must-visit destination.
Stepping into their Portland shop, it’s easy to become immediately enveloped by the very qualities that make Abacus successful: warmth, a welcoming spirit, and a sense of familiarity.
Each Abacus Gallery location showcases a wide array of beautiful objects from around the country. Customers will find one-of-a-kind clocks made from recycled materials, classic and contemporary jewelry and watches, glass lamps, eco-friendly throws, charming cards, handcrafted wooden boxes, pottery collections, and paintings—all of which reflect the unusual, often whimsical design sense that Heacock and Scaglione have become known for.
The two gallery owners trawl the country for new treasures and receive daily submissions from local and national artisans. Some of the inventory has been part of the Abacus mix since the beginning, and new products are being introduced all the time.
Their approach—classic products mixed with fresh discoveries—is perhaps the reason why Abacus has become an anchor of Maine’s retail scene. Established customers check in to see what new finds Abacus has in stock. And so do scores of tourists and summer residents who can’t resist the lovely window displays filled with an eclectic mix of goods. Robots, anyone?
Shortly after graduating from RISD, Heacock and Scaglione opened their first shop in Vermont. “We had no idea what we were doing, and certainly had no sense that it would have any longevity,” says Heacock. Their first venture featured work by former classmates along with a hodgepodge of crafts. “It was a bit of a hippie shop, reflective of the times,” says Scaglione. “But curating and displaying the art and crafts drew us in, and propelled us to keep at it.”
They relocated to Maine and opened their Boothbay Harbor shop in 1971. Their original location was later followed by shops in Portland, Freeport, Kennebunkport, and finally Ogunquit. “Stumbling upon the buildings is similar to finding new artisans,” says Heacock. “When we see a space, we begin to imagine the possibilities.”
While five stores would be enough for most, the two partners also manage to run a small publishing operation that turns out calendars, prints, giclee prints, and notecards based on Heacock’s original paintings. The calendars, now in their twenty-sixth year of publication, are showcased in each of the Abacus stores and sold through a robust list of retail operations.
A field trip to Abacus is a bit like visiting a museum, yet touching and trying on items is encouraged. Best of all, count on finding something in any price range and for every occasion, from birthdays to weddings.
Bestselling product? Our own poster calendar! The calendars are available in poster or desktop size.
Favorite spot? David’s 388 on Cottage Road in South Portland for a nice get-away-from-it-all dinner. And in summer, we love to get out on the water in Casco Bay.
Why Maine? “I (Dana) was born in Portland and, growing up, never missed a summer in Boothbay Harbor. There’s just no other place like Maine. I like the seasonal nature that our business gets from being in Maine. It gives us a chance to work really hard knowing that a quieter time is just around the corner. That makes for a nice rhythm to life.”