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Published August 20, 2019

Main Street Creativity

How Jennifer Lisa created two businesses that sustain her professional and personal life.

Jennifer Lisa in her store Quench

Jennifer Lisa always knew she wanted to be an artist, but it wasn’t until high school that she gained access to the mentorship and resources that would help mold her raw creativity into fine craft. What started as a job wrapping jewelry for the holidays in high school resulted in the young artist befriending a goldsmith and being invited to stay on. Working her way up the ladder, Jennifer began learning the basics of jewelry making.

Following what felt “like destiny,” Jennifer applied and was accepted early decision to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and spent the next decade in Providence, Rhode Island committing her professional life to learning about design and jewelry. After her formal education at RISD, where she was also a teaching assistant for youth art classes, Jennifer worked for a fine craft jeweler as well as a costume jeweler. She also created her own one-of-a-kind hollow-form jewelry of nickel-silver and eighteen karat gold. The unique combination of materials and design landed Jennifer exhibitions in galleries nation-wide.

After spending her twenties in Rhode Island, Jennifer decided to move back to Maine, where her family had resided for twelve generations before her. Jennifer taught art for four years at a local school, where she eventually met her husband, who was also a teacher. Jennifer and John started a family together, and for a few years Jennifer focused on being a stay-at-home mother. But one weekend when her daughter Annabelle was a toddler, friends asked to see her jewelry. After unpacking her jewelry, the desire to express her creative side was sparked anew, and shortly after, Jennifer began making jewelry again.

In 2008, Jennifer launched her brand Quench Metalworks on Etsy, an online marketplace for unique goods. She also started a rigorous tour of retail craft shows around New England, including Arts in the Park in Belfast. Jennifer developed relationships with a large community of craftspeople and enjoyed a successful start to her own business.

But after six years of up to fourteen shows per year, Jennifer grew tired of the retail craft show circuit. The market was getting saturated, the schedule was grueling with a young child, and Jennifer missed the additional creativity that comes with a brick and mortar shop. It was time to change the business model.

Around the same time, Jennifer and John decided to move to a less rural community. “We knew we wanted to be near the ocean, and in a city that could support a shop someday.” They also wanted more performing arts opportunities for their daughter. The family explored cities up and down the coast, and ultimately chose Belfast.

Settling in Belfast wasn’t entirely random for Jennifer. Having grown up in China, Maine, Jennifer visited the coastal city as a child with her parents. “I had great times here as a kid, going to the Grasshopper Shop, running up and down the streets, sailing with my parents.” And Jennifer recalled her dad daydreaming about her having a shop in Belfast someday.

So when Jennifer opened Quench downtown, “it was a bit of a brass ring for me to be able to have a shop in Belfast, because it was always in the back of my head,” she said. Jennifer’s original plan was to open a shop within five years of settling in their new community, but just one week after moving to Belfast in June 2014, Jennifer leased a small retail space at 9 Beaver Street, (which currently houses Tusk). Two months later – stocked with her own jewelry and some consigned art – Jennifer opened her first brick and mortar shop on August 15th.

“It was a great starter store, but there wasn’t enough foot traffic,” Jennifer recalled. “I wanted this to be my career, it wasn’t just a hobby.” So when a space became available on Main Street just ten months after opening on Beaver Street, Jennifer jumped at the opportunity.

It was a big move for Jennifer. “I didn’t have enough of my own inventory or the capital to buy inventory to fill the space,” she recalled, which was four times larger than her first store. So Jennifer came up with her own cooperative-style business model. Tapping into the community she had developed during her craft show days, Jennifer invited artists to pay a “vending fee” to be represented at her store. Unlike a true cooperative, Jennifer maintained full creative license over the design of her shop – which had been part of her vision in operating her own store. In turn, she gained a consistent cash flow – particularly helpful in the winter – and was able to grow her clientele and inventory.

Today, Jennifer operates more like a traditional shop that owns more inventory outright, rather than consigning or renting space. Quench, which is open year-round and specializes in “eclectic goods for the curious soul,” is full of Jennifer’s own jewelry, as well as small-production items and local fine crafts.

Jennifer also still operates her wholesale business Quench Metalworks through her website, (she left Etsy when she opened Quench in 2014). The two businesses complement each other well: in the quieter winter months, Jennifer focuses more energy on filling her wholesale account, as well as growing her personal brand through social media and online marketing.

In the summer, Jennifer builds relationships with Quench customers, whether they’re one-time visitors or local residents. “I’m selling more and more of my own work. Clients like that I’m here, that the person behind the counter is the person making the work. I have incredibly loyal customers that continue to come to me,” Jennifer expressed gratefully.

And relationships have and continue to be a major key to her success. “Customer service is absolutely the key to my success,” Jennifer said. “Greeting everyone and making them feel like they’re appreciated is important, because I do appreciate when someone comes in and buys a $6 temporary tattoo, or a bigger item – every sale counts.” Whether it’s a one-time customer or a repeat client, Jennifer knows that people coming into the store value a personal connection, especially in a world where consumers can have anything shipped to their front door with the click of a button.

In fact, Jennifer’s ideas for next steps – because her creative wheels never stop spinning – revolve around this idea of building relationships. “I want to move my work bench into the back of the store, so I can get more work done when its quiet, and people can see what I’m doing. People find it intriguing to see me work, even when I’m just filing something at the counter. It’s a conversation starter and it’s part of the experience. I can also adjust jewelry for people right there and then.”

As a Belfast resident, relationships to her neighbors are also very important to Jennifer. “I love the connection between downtown and the residential area,” she said, listing off an impressive number of her neighbors in and around Cedar Street that also have businesses downtown. “We all live within a stone’s throw of our businesses and we’re all really invested in this city both as business owners and residents.”

In fact, Jennifer credits her time volunteering on the Our Town Belfast Board of Directors with helping her develop comradery with a group of sole proprietors and small business owners downtown like herself. “I believe in this community and I think it’s a stronger community when we support organizations like Our Town Belfast, because of the beautification efforts and organization of sales and events,” she said. “The Early Bird Sale is the best day of the year for me and this year’s Sidewalk Sale was great too – it brought tons of people downtown and first-time customers into my shop. Supporting this organization that does all of this for us is priceless. Everyone benefits from the work that is done to maintain our lovely historic downtown.” Besides Our Town Belfast, Jennifer also supports theater and art in Belfast.

Quench celebrated five years in business on August 15th, 2019. Learn more about Jennifer Lisa, Quench Metalworks, and her brick and mortar Quench shop online and on Facebook, or visit the store at 33 Main Street.

 

 

 

 

Published July 25, 2019

Katherine Loblein and John Gibbs

Anthony Jacovino and Tina Delsanto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Teamwork

Tina Delsanto and Katherine Loblein weren’t even friends when they went into business together in 2005. “We hated each other!” they joked.

In the early 2000’s, Tina was a self described “Jager Girl”, commuting from Portland half the week to work at The Lookout. Katherine, who grew up in Belfast, was working as a bartender at the Lookout. One morning in mid 2005, Lookout staff came in to find the bar flooded. With water damage, an unresponsive business owner, and an eminent shut down, most employees, let alone two in their early twenties, would walk away. But Tina had a different idea. 

“She forced me to do it,” Katherine says when asked about how Tina convinced her to buy The Lookout with her. Clearly that doesn’t tell the whole story. Katherine left massage school, moved back to Belfast full time, and brought her father into the venture. “No one would give us a loan,” said Tina. After being rejected by several banks, they finally secured a mortgage when Katherine’s father agreed to co-sign. “The regulars had a bet that we wouldn’t last two weeks,” recall the duo. And they had their share of challenges. 

John Gibbs, a Belfast police sergeant and Katherine’s partner, (they met at the pub), said, “gravity feeds downhill, and this is the last place everybody went. People would come in from other bars around town with glasses still half full of beer.” Being known as the fun bar, at times there would be fights or other trouble. But Katherine and Tina, with and without the help of law enforcement, prevailed. 

They created new policies, worked on creating a new image with the local media, paid off their loan early, and rebranded the entire business. “We just started growing up, we wanted to have babies, and didn’t want to be that bar anymore,” they shared. In 2012, they renovated and renamed their bar Front Street Pub. The establishment still offers dancing on Saturday nights, (“because we don’t want Belfast to be boring”), but now 60% of their business is food, a huge change from before. 

As their success continued, Tina and Katherine were presented with the opportunity to buy their building. They did and the purchase led to an expansion adding Harborwalk Restaurant. Initially Harborwalk operated as a separate restaurant, but soon joined the two establishments with a door cut through the wall between. Today it is one business, one menu, and two distinct atmospheres, where Katherine & Tina can honor their dual desires to both serve quality food and provide a fun place to grab a drink and let loose on the weekends. In addition they employ upwards of 40 staff at peak season, making the business a significant employer in downtown Belfast. 

In addition to Front Street Pub and Harborwalk Restaurant, Tina owns and operates Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House with her husband Anthony Jacovino. Katherine owns Katwalk, a retail store, with her partner John Gibbs.

Just up the hill at Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House, Tina and Anthony employ another nearly 40 people during the summer. The couple, which Katherine introduced, opened Delvino’s together in 2010. Prior to opening Delvino’s, Tina and Anthony owned a bakery, and a couple years after opening Delvino’s, they opened La Vida, (which is now Neighborhood). “At some point we also had a lobster roll shack with a giant lobster trap for people to sit in, across from Rollie’s. It was the most photographed and also one of the worst projects we’ve done,” said the couple. “I come up with the crazy ideas, and Anthony keeps me in check,” Tina laughed. 

Today, Tina is quick to say success is from hard work and “mostly error” in the famed “trial and error” approach to business. And the two women and their partners are still working just as hard as when they first started. 

Perhaps one of the biggest elements contributing to the success of these three businesses is the collaborative manner in which these businesses are run. “All four of us come to the table with something different,” said Tina. Katherine explained “When I got called back in to Front Street last night because the computers were down, I called Anthony, because he runs the computers at Delvino’s, and is more familiar with them than John is.” This collaboration expands to Katherine’s shop Katwalk as well. When Katwalk moved locations this spring, Anthony helped John rehang the sign. This teamwork means that when someone is sick, busy with a seasonal activity, like hunting or foraging fiddleheads, or simply needs a break, there are many hands to help out. “And when we work on projects together, it helps keep us motivated,” added John. 

This success spills over into the impact they are able to have in the community. Delvino’s sponsors food at the Gameloft, Harborwalk is involved with the Keep Belfast Beautiful cleanup effort, and both restaurants regularly host sponsorship events for local nonprofits during the winter months, in addition to their ongoing support of Our Town Belfast. 

In the nearly 15 years that have passed since Tina and Katherine first jumped into business together, a lot has changed. The two are now mothers of toddler girls, and Katherine is expecting another this summer. Parenthood has resulted in the couples stepping back a little, (La Vida was sold in part because of Tina and Anthony’s desire to start a family), but they show no signs of slowing down. They all spend a little less time behind the bar and a little more managing their businesses. However, one thing that remains the same is their success and the fact that you can still catch one or the other of them walking food to customers, fixing the air conditioning, or rehanging a sign. 

So next time you shop, eat, or drink downtown, remember to lift a glass to those business owners who are working hard to keep Belfast a wonderful place to live, work, and play. 

 

                   

 

Published June 14, 2019

Resiliency Through the Lens of Longevity: Colby and Brian Horne of Colburn Shoe Store Share Their Family Perspective

It’s common knowledge around Belfast that Colburn Shoe Store is the “oldest shoe store in America.” But the fact is worth repeating – our little city is home to the oldest shoe store in the nation!

A lot of people also know that Colburn Shoe Store is a family-run business. But did you know the current owner, Colby Horne, is the fifth generation Horne to run the store? Or that since the store opened 187 years ago, only two families have owned the business?

Started by the Colburn family in 1832, the business was purchased in 1922 by a member of what is now the Horne family. As previous owner Brian Horne likes to point out, the store has now been in the Horne family longer than the Colburn family – 97 years compared to the original family’s 90-year run. Also remarkable is that the store has always been in the heart of Belfast, and has been in its current location at 79 Main Street since 1905, which amounts to 114 years of occupying the same building.

Today, Colburn Shoe Store is owned by 36 year-old Colby Horne, who bought it from his father Brian three years ago. Just like Brian, Colby grew up helping out around his family’s store, learning the business and the customers from a young age. But Colby didn’t take on the shoe business right away. Instead, he left to work for Enterprise Rent-a-car, which he says was “probably the best thing that happened to me because it was like a baptism-by-fire business degree – I learned so much about business.” After six years with Enterprise, Colby returned to Belfast seeking a higher quality of life, and joined the family business.

It’s clear the Horne family figured out how to work together through the generations, and have passed that success down from uncle to nephew, and from father to son. The original Horne who purchased Colburn Shoe Store in 1922 was Brian’s great uncle. He in turn passed the business down to his nephew, who later sold it to his brother Alan Horne. Alan was Brian’s father and sold the store to Brian in 1986. Brian followed tradition and sold the business to Colby in 2016.

When asked about the key to their success, Colby responded that consistency is important: “consistency in how we operate day to day makes us more efficient.” And that consistency, matched with a high level of care and expertise, results in a better experience for customers, who are loyal and travel from over an hour away to shop with Colby and Brian. “People come in and ask to talk to us by name,” said Brian. Colby added that their employees – of which there are 3 full time in the winter and another 3 part timers in the summer – are well trained to ask for help from Colby or Brian if they don’t know the answer to a customer question. “We don’t want customers to walk out with the wrong product,” said Colby.

And customers are coming in with more ideas and education on what they want and need because of the internet. But in the age of unlimited information, more is not always better, and the intangibility of internet shopping actually drives more people into Colburn’s brick and mortar establishment seeking a friendly face and true expertise. “Customer service and knowledge of our product” – which has been gained through generations of experience – “is what drives sales and foot traffic. People want to do business with people that are masters at their craft,” said Colby.

And this is a statement of fact, not boast. The father-son team are laidback and unassuming, even as their accomplishments rack up. A recent major accolade was being recognized as New England Shoe Store of the Year in 2018, a year after the business’ 185th anniversary. “That’s a big feather in our cap. To be recognized New England-wide made me feel like, hey, I guess I’m doing something right,” Brian said.

Brian and Colby don’t just ride on the family and business’ good reputation though. They continue to bring in high-quality products and offer excellent customer service. And part of running a successful business is taking risks, and even failing. Colby described how both he and his father have had to take risks through the years. “Remember the Ugg craze? Brian bought way more Uggs than he was comfortable buying, and I did that this summer with a big order too.” Colby continued, pointing at the twelve foot wall of shoes that runs the length of showroom, “we’ve failed too. There are styles up there on the wall and we haven’t sold one, no one’s picked it up off the shelf.” Some of it is about fashion, but “there’s eye appeal too, when you first come in,” added Brian. “We’ve had some really good sale reps that have helped us a lot too – the people that know what our business is.” Colby jumped in, “Wendy” – one of those sales representatives – “worked with dad for 26 years, so she knew everything, she didn’t even have to consult with him, and the customers knew that she was knowledgeable so they trusted her too.”  

These long term relationships – along with consistency, experience, and a dose of healthy risk taking – are key components of Colburn’s success. These relationships extend beyond the sales representatives, employees, and customers and out into the broader community. Colburn Shoe Store supports local efforts through contributions: “anytime someone comes in with an ask, we find something for them. It doesn’t matter what it’s about – these are our people, this is our community – you gotta have their back and help where you can,” said Colby.

The business owners have invested in the community in more specific ways as well, including through a partnership with Our Town Belfast. In fact, Our Town Belfast, as well as the Belfast Creative Coalition, were partially the results of efforts that Brian Horne was a part of back when Belfast experienced an economic slump after the chicken processing and shoe manufacturing plants shuttered in the 1970’s and 1980’s. “It was quite a span of time before MBNA came in, in the mid 1990’s. Those times were definitely rough. Waldo County had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state at that time,” said Brian.  

Colby picked up the story, “but we’ve been getting steadily cleaner, more popular, more vibrant, and we have more people involved in the community. It started out with grassroots groups of downtown business owners like my dad – they started to promote downtown and it eventually turned into Our Town Belfast and other organizations. People have gotten really interested and involved in making this the Midcoast destination and everyone’s hard work is paying off.” Brian recalled the efforts the city and community invested in to “put Belfast on the map” by hiring a consulting firm. The resulting marketing efforts were a “big shot in our arm;” it not only created interest in the city as a destination but also as a place to settle down, remembered Brian.

Brian credits strong leadership as an important piece of Belfast’s recovery, including that of Paige Worth, the mayor of Belfast from the late 1980’s through the 1990’s. “A lot of people put time and effort into making decisions that have made Belfast what it is. Getting the footbridge renovated – because it was almost at the point of getting knocked into the bay – was important, and it’s such an asset now. Downtown Belfast is just such a beautiful place to be.” Colby joined in, “the Rail Trail and Harborwalk are some of the best things that have happened. People come here, and see the potential.” Colby continued, “We really appreciate Our Town Belfast. You’re involved and really want to make this a place where we can all be successful. Our logo gets extra recognition being out there, but the partnership really strengthens the bonds with businesses, especially new businesses that come to town. You provide a platform, just like the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, an opportunity to meet each other and build relationships.”

Standing on the shoulders of previous generations, Brian and now Colby invest in Belfast in a number of ways because it’s good – good for their business, good for their community. Colburn Shoe Store is an important part of Belfast’s unique cultural heritage, and Colby and Brian are integrally involved in growing and sustaining downtown Belfast as individuals and business owners.

 

 

79 Main St, Belfast Maine.

(207) 338-1934

www.colburnshoe.com

 

Published May 24, 2019

For The Love Of Community

What do two of Our Town Belfast’s biggest partners have in common? Besides being in construction, it’s their love for the Belfast community.

We recently sat down with two of our biggest business partners – K Construction and Whitecap Builders – to ask them why they support Our Town Belfast. Without hesitation, both local business owners replied that it was about supporting their community.  

It’s both personal and professional.

Cody Keithan, who has owned and operated K Construction for over twenty years, grew up in Waldo County and moved to Belfast about 15 years ago. Besides being near the ocean – important for the two-time World Champion boat builder – Cody settled in Belfast because of the community of people and local businesses. The unique collection of downtown stores and “small town feel” was especially important: “From the people to the businesses, Belfast has a little bit of everything” said Cody.

Dann Waldron, the owner of Whitecap Builders since 2015, shared similar thoughts. Dann, who moved to Belfast in 2010 with his family from Cape Cod, said his “gut feeling” about Belfast has proven true over and over again. “We’re all invested in the local economy and a vibrant downtown. I shop downtown and want to support it,” said Dann. The father of three added, “it’s a great place to raise kids; there’s so much going on.”

The connection to a vibrant, year-round community extends well beyond the personal for these two local business owners. Both K Construction and Whitecap Builders are intimately tied to downtown businesses on both sides of the client-builder relationship.  K Construction has done a number of remodels in downtown including Out on a Whimsey Toys, Nautilus Seafood and Grill, and the Masonic Building. Whitecap Builders has long-term relationships with businesses such as Maine Farmland Trust and Darby’s, and – as one of the few “big companies to still offer handyman services,” according to Dann – is also in and out of a number of establishments shoveling roofs, fixing squeaky doors, and replacing hardware.

And just as Dann discussed choosing to shop locally for himself and his family, he made a point that Whitecap Builders does as much local vending as possible. Both businesses hire local employees and do the vast majority of their work within striking distance of downtown Belfast.

And this all ties back to why Whitecap Builders and K Construction support Our Town Belfast as multiyear partners at the top Penobscot Bay level. Both business owners cited community as the major reason they support Our Town Belfast’s work and mission, which is to grow and sustain Belfast’s historic downtown while celebrating its unique cultural heritage.

“I support Our Town Belfast because [Our Town Belfast] is looking out for the town and the community. They showcase everything that Belfast has to offer and bring people together to help foster that small town feel,” said Cody.  

“It’s good for community to be part of your community. I can’t see the reason to not support groups like Our Town Belfast, even the smallest amount,” said Dann. Reflecting on an idea he developed when he bartended at Three Tides before buying Whitecap Builders, Dann continued, “it’s important to know who’s here and what they can bring to the table. It’s being part of a community. We’re all here – if we can’t help each other, then we will end up calling outside [of Belfast] for help, and we don’t need that. I think we can do it ourselves.”

Both Cody and Dann made it clear that supporting their community by shopping locally, employing locally, working locally, and living locally is critical to maintaining the wellbeing of their businesses and their personal lives. Both businesses also offer support to other downtown establishments and events such as the Rotary Club and the Celtic Festival.

Thank you Cody Keithan of K Construction and Dann Waldron of Whitecap Builders for your continued support of downtown Belfast and Our Town Belfast’s work to make our city a better place to live, work and play.

 

K Construction offers complete design and build services for both residential and commercial projects including new build, remodel and renovation. K Construction is located at 145 Lincolnville Ave, Belfast. Find them online at www.kconstruction.me or call 207-975-1654.

 

Whitecap Builders offers in-house custom design, new construction, renovations, additions, finish carpentry, earth work, and snow removal services. Whitecap Builders is located at 15 Evergreen Ridge Road, Belfast. Find them online at www.whitecapbuilders.com or call 207-318-3112.