Best Places: Norway

Oxford Hills comeback.

Photo by Sara Gray</5>
Population: 4,979
Median household income: $41,377
Percent of families below poverty level: 9.9%
Median home sale price: $96,000
Median age: 44
There’s a bit of Bedford Falls in Norway — and no shortage of George Baileys determined to keep it that way. Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, was the protagonist of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. He refused to sell out his late father’s business, Bailey Building and Loan, to the soulless slumlord, Henry Potter, preferring to stand with those who “do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.”

You hear echoes of the Bailey philosophy in the words of Norway resident Scott Burk. “I love knowing a lot of people in town, and I love being involved,” Burk said in a recent Down East town profile. “There are so many people working so hard and so passionately to make this a better place to live — it’s inspiring to be around them.”

“There is a sense of community there like no other. What more could one ask for?” — Nancy Rose of Long Island, New York, who calls Norway her “adopted hometown”

Burk opened Cafe Nomad in 2007 and also serves on the board of the historic Norway Opera House, which a local nonprofit renovated after acquiring it from an absentee landlord. The restored opera house, which now houses a variety of retail spaces, is part of an ongoing renaissance as Norway adjusts to the sometimes-harsh economic realities of the 21st century. Civic leaders want to avoid a repeat of the disastrous all-our-eggs-in-one-basket approach that wreaked havoc on so many Maine mill towns in the previous century. Nor is Norway eager to cast its lot with the boom-and-bust tourist economy. Instead, the town is committed to building a network of independent — yet interdependent — businesses. This includes the eclectic mix of downtown retail shops, as well as such nonretail businesses as the New Balance manufacturing facility on Cottage Street and the headquarters of the venerable Norway Savings Bank (founded in 1866), named by American Banker as one of the country’s best banks to work for in 2013.

One thing that hasn’t changed in Norway is its scenic location in western Maine’s Oxford Hills. A visit to nearby Lake Pennesseewassee provides a timely reminder that, for those committed to making a life instead of merely making a living, Norway offers a wonderful life indeed.

Next up: Bangor: New Urban Energy.
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