The “gateway town” designation is a double-edged sword: it guarantees foot traffic but means being frequently overshadowed — in Ellsworth’s case, by Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. But new businesses have lately sprung up in Ellsworth’s historic downtown, while existing ones are expanding into new spaces. All that new energy is a reminder that a gateway town can be a destination in itself.
This jam-packed little shop, which Leslie Harlow opened last November, offers gifts that rep New England, from felted ornaments to linens and home goods to all sorts of trinkets and apparel emblazoned with the original star-and-pine state flag. What caught our eye recently: sophisticated color-blocked satchels from Maine-based Rugged Seas, made from upcycled lobstermen’s bibs. Harlow’s planning a move this month into a shared space down the street (169 Main St.) with two other retailers, to be called Trio. 192 Main St. 207-266-0621.
During the pandemic, Sarah Sika Bowden realized her candy store was a place where families could find some much-needed sweetness. Her previous space, down the block, was too small to grow in, so Bowden upgraded in August to her current, 3,800-square-foot digs. That’s plenty of room for penny candies, retro sodas, and all manner of gummies, plus a kids’ play area and pinball arcade. “But we’re still keeping that hometown, nostalgic, mom-and-pop, old-general-store feeling,” Bowden says. 142 Main St.207-812-5623.
Amanda Beals’s bright, cheery store has a girls-night-out vibe, offering what Beals calls “comfortable, affordable, size-inclusive clothes.” After launching just before the pandemic hit, she started doing enough business online to necessitate a larger space and reopened this spring. She tries to fill her racks with clothing lines owned by women and with philanthropic values. 97 Main St. 207-412-0038.
Susan Nordman and her husband, Scott Mayer, ran Bliss in Bar Harbor before expanding to Ellsworth last year. When COVID hit, they opted to consolidate into just the Ellsworth shop. The eclectic boutique sells globally sourced items from indie makers: teas, gauzy dresses, and exotic instruments, plus soaps and creams Nordman makes herself. “Customers tell me they float out,” she says. 93 Main St. 207-412-0589.
Linda and Hans Van Der Does opened their toy-and-children’s-gift store this summer, right across from Toko, their gift store for grown-ups (which also has locations in Portland and Belfast). With products like arts-and-crafts supplies, play-kitchen sets, and dress-up accessories, Linda hopes the store makes kids feel understood. “It’s a store geared towards kids, not grandparents or parents,” she says. “We want kids to touch things and play.” 95 Main St. 207-667-8980.
Not a shop, per se, but papermaker Stephanie Hare opens her studio on Friday afternoons for visitors to see and feel her textured, earth-toned stationeries and other handmade papers, which she sells via her website. When she started posting her papermaking on Instagram, she had no idea she was tapping into a hot trend. “Turns out the wedding industry is really into handmade paper these days,” she says. Now, she keeps busy filling custom orders in her chic studio, which she relocated to her home state from Philadelphia last winter. 6 State St.