Reaching a Renaissance

Exploring the boutiques and eateries of downtown Biddeford, Maine’s latest city in bloom
Words By Heather Chapman
Photos By Lauryn Hottinger

Something is abuzz in Biddeford, and you don’t have to live here to feel the rhythmic beat. It reverberates down sidewalks, inside coffee shops and boutiques, gathering strength as it goes. “There’s something really interesting and palpable happening here,” says Ron Briggs, coowner of Wooven, an artisanal textile shop based downtown. The owners of Time & Tide Coffee concur, calling the buzz “The Biddaissance.” Indeed, the city—which, since 1847 was composed predominantly of hardworking textile mills—has undergone a series of transformations thanks to developer Doug Sanford, who saw a silver lining in the crumbling brick buildings (namely, the Pepperell Mill) perched along the snaking Saco River.

Today, Biddeford is home to an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, artists, and artisans, all eager to vibe off the high spirits and elevated atmosphere that is reaching a crescendo. Maine’s best kept secret is out, and your tour starts on Main Street with a cone at Sweetcream Dairy, a local ice cream shop that is also a registered dairy. “Essentially, that means we are the only ice cream shop statewide that pasteurizes our own ice cream base. Most shops purchase ready-made ice cream bases from companies such as Oakhurst or Hood … kind of like baking a cake from a boxed mix,” explains owner Jonathan Denton. The process of pasteurizing a mix from scratch allows Jonathan—who owns and manages the shop with his wife, Jacqui DeFrança—to achieve heightened flexibility and flavor with the recipes, which utilize locally sourced milk and cream from Harris Farm in Dayton. With a variety of flavors—including the shop’s namesake sweet cream, brown butter crunch, cold brew coffee, and bourbon maple pecan—you’ll be eagerly anticipating the grand reopening at a new location in the spring of 2022. “We’ll have more flavors, more menu items, more seating, and a beautiful new dining room,” Jonathan says.

Vieux Antiques curator Kyle Purinton greets collectible shoppers. Photo by George Petkov.
Big Tree Grocery offer shoppers access to locally sourced food for professional meal prep. Photo by Ryan David Brown.
Hills & Trails display their outdoor-inspired threads and locally printed posters. Photo by James Frydrych.

Nothing pairs better with sweets than a side of antiques. A meander down Main Street will take you to Vieux Antiques and Vintage, a surprising boutique curated by Kyle Purinton. “Vieux (meaning ‘old’ in French) is a tastefully curated selection of interesting antiques and vintage and collectible items that range from the early American and colonial era all the way to the modern vintage of the 1980s and ’90s,” Kyle says. This autumn, Vieux will be growing into a multivendor establishment under the name “Biddeford Vintage Market.” “Vieux will be a marquee and anchor vendor there, alongside a number of equally talented and passionate folks,” Kyle says. The market will be located within a larger space (two doors down from Kyle’s current location on Main Street) and will operate five days a week. Keep an eye out for updates on social media and online.

With old-time treasures in hand, step next door and discover the treasures of today (crafted by traditional means) at Wooven, a textile shop featuring the work of weavers in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. “Everything we make or purchase has a distinctive human story behind it,” explains Ron Briggs, who coowns Wooven with “Albert” Duc Nhan. With a truly bespoke collection of totes and bags, table and kitchen textiles, scarves, jewelry, home decor, paper, and more, the sunny space invites visitors to slowly take in the culturally enriching work of weavers worldwide. Two products—papers and silks made from parts of the mulberry tree—are especially thought provoking. “In Laos, there is a group of extraordinary women who use the bark of the mulberry tree to create paper and feed the tree’s leaves to silkworms, which spin incredible silk. It amazes me how a single species of tree can sustain a village,” Ron says. Any one of the shop’s hand-embroidered towels from a Vietnamese co-op would look festive on a holiday table.

Served with their trademark gin, Round Turn Distilling’s popular drinks include the Bimini Bramble.

Farther down Main Street is Trillium, a gift store selling decorative pieces under the themes of “home,” “self,” and “soul.” What began as a venture to share the works of artisans and craftspeople in Maine and nationwide soon morphed into something much more profound. “Trillium has become a gathering place where relations are made, long-lasting friendships are formed, and inspiration is shared among the incredible individuals who stop by,” says shop owner Renee Messier. Locally made pillows and throws, Buddha planters, crystals, geodes, and much more provide a holistic boutique experience in a calming, white-walled interior. “I always try to focus on local, New England, United States, and Fair-Trade offerings, with a special emphasis on women owned businesses,” Renee says. Keep an eye out for the launch of Trillium’s new website (trilliumonmain.com) and stop by for a Create Community workshop hosted by Renee and her team.

The trip takes a woodsy turn at nearby Hills & Trails, an outdoors-inspired lifestyle shop. Partners in life and in business, graphic designer Kanya Zillmer and photographer James Frydrych started their company in 2015. “We would plan hiking trips every weekend, and James would photograph our adventures, and I would design posters from his photography. Together, we would screen-print the designs, which have now grown to include, pillows, kids’ T-shirts, and more,” Kanya explains. Now located in the heart of Biddeford, Hills & Trails supplies apparel, home goods, and posters reflective of the surrounding Maine wilderness. Aside from Kanya and James’ screen-printed goods (each poster is printed locally and is uniquely one of a kind), the store also carries products from other Maine-based makers. Be sure to try on Kanya and James’ cozy crewneck fleece sweatshirts, coming out in a bunch of new colors and designs.

Skaters recharge with Time & Tide’s delicious coffee blends. Photo by Julie K. Gray.

Continuing under the flora-and-fauna theme, make your way to stem & vine, a floral design studio that creates stunning seasonal arrangements for weddings, events, businesses, and individuals. “I discovered floral design 10 years ago when my sister got married and I was assigned to be in charge of the flowers,” explains owner-designer Brianne Emhiser. “Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed!” Sourcing nearly all her flowers within a 60-mile radius of the stem & vine studio (except the roses, which Brianne buys from small farms in California) underscores Brianne’s commitment to supporting local and prizing sustainability and environmentalism. Mark your calendar for November 27th, the day Brianne’s handmade holiday wreaths will officially be available for purchase (preorder online around Halloween if you’re not the waiting type).

Catch your breath from shopping and strolling with a short stop and much-needed jolt of caffeine at Time & Tide Coffee. If the dizzying assortment of delicious menu items has your head spinning, keep things simple and order a Pistachio Cream Latte. “This drink was inspired by a consulting trip Jon took in the Middle East shortly after our cafe opened. We envisioned it as a summer special, but people loved it so much, we didn’t want to bum anyone out by taking it off the menu,” explains Briana Campbell, who owns the coolly minimalist shop with her husband, Jon Phillips. Their tagline is “Better Coffee. For Everyone.” And they deliver on that line. “We create extremely drinkable and consistent blends—coffees that will take milk and sugar but also drink great black—and we offer single-origin beans,” Briana says, underscoring that Jon’s longtime experience in the coffee industry has helped the pair strike a balance between special single-origin coffees and easy-drinking blends. All the coffees are roasted in the hyperlocal production facility (located on the Pepperell Mill Campus). November at Time & Tide means special holiday blends, winter specials, gift boxes, and new merchandise.

Now that you’re recharged, continue on to Round Turn Distilling for a flavorful cocktail at the on-site bar, open in the evenings Wednesday through Sunday, or for a bottle of the distiller’s trademark Bimini gin. “We wanted to capture the feeling of relaxed, lighthearted Maine summer days by the sea—whether sipping an icy gin and tonic or dreaming of summer while enjoying a Negroni near the slopes,” says Kristina Hansen, who owns Round Turn Distilling with her husband, Darren Case. The native Mainers moved back to the Pine Tree State after a stint in New York, eager to add their own voice to the spirit industry. They craft Bimini gin to capture a specific selection of flavors and let it rest in stainless steel before bottling to give it an ultrasmooth taste with bright citrus and floral notes. Keep an eye out online for a schedule of cocktail making classes, including drinks, snacks, a cocktail history lesson, and hands-on activities.

Next up is Lorne, a bar and retail shop that has a unique (and a decidedly fun) approach to wine. “If you want to learn about the wine you drink, we are here to nerd out with you. If you’d rather just relax and sip something delicious, we are here for that, too,” say coowners Erin and Carson James. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, know this: Lorne’s wines are grown sustainably and made traditionally, with little to nothing added or subtracted. “Our wines deeply reflect their places of origin, including the land, the climate, and the hard work of the folks who grow the fruit and make the wine,” Erin says. You can even share this goodness with a subscription to Lorne’s Wine Club, either by the month or in prepaid packages—cross one Christmas gift off the list.

The last stop along your Main Street crawl (with an entrance on Washington Street) is Common Roots Studio, a community-centric art studio owned by painter-sculptor Nick Blunier. “We are a combined gallery and studio that gives artists a safe space to take a chance on themselves and their work,” Nick says, happy for the opportunity to support individuals and artists within the special needs and mental health communities. What started in 2012 as a studio for his own woodworking projects (Nick is a driftwood artist) soon morphed into a place where kids and adults alike could come to stretch their creativity, whether through art programs and classes, music lessons, or shows and exhibitions. Keep an eye out for Nick’s Mobile Art Mobile (a small bus Nick will be taking around the state to give kids and adults a way to participate in artful activities) and don’t miss adult art nights and the yearly Lone Pine art show featuring live music and food trucks this autumn.

While you’re on Washington Street, check out the new Suger Bōle retail space, where a highly curated artisan market meets a sustainably made clothing boutique. “Our fashions are crafted in the historic mills right here and sold worldwide,” designer Roxi Suger says, gesturing around her outlet space, which can only be described as rustic-luxe. Polished and midcentury elements (like sleek walnut butcher block countertops) mingle with reclaimed features (such as weathered wood shelving, handmade by Roxi and her husband) creating a space that feels full of depth and intrigue. After giving your wardrobe a refresh in the Palace Room with designs from the Angel Rox and Suger brands, scour Roxi’s assortment of other Maine-made goodies, like organic soaps and lotions, gourmet popcorns and candies, beers, home decor, and more. There’s even an on-site cafe with cake from Bam Bam Bakery.

Tulu Salon pampers clients with its own certified organic hair-product line.
Big Tree Grocery provides meal kits to inspire a new level of food creation at home. Photo by Ryan David Brown.
Tulu’s warm and colorful environment—alongside its highly skilled technicians—sets customers at ease.

Now, it’s on to Alfred Street and Gypsy Soil, a creative plant-and-lifestyle boutique owned and operated by sisters Gina and Ja’coall. Reflecting the women’s areas of expertise (Gina studied horticulture at Southern Maine Community College, while Ja’coall was a practicing hair stylist, the boutique is filled with houseplants and fashion items under the boho-chic theme. “Our inventory is so thoughtfully curated,” Gina says, explaining that each of their featured artisanal products is sourced from women-owned companies producing in small batches. The shop itself is also something to rave about—decorated with a pink disco ball and funky floral wallpaper that lifts the spirits as you peruse. For those still sticking close to home, Gypsy Soil will be launching an accompanying e-commerce boutique in November.

Next up is Part & Parcel, a can’t-miss moments away on Alfred Street selling delicious wines, beers, meats, and cheeses. “The idea for Part & Parcel was created from the inability to find quality local and staple items within walking distance of downtown Biddeford,” explains Danielle O’Neill, who coowns the market-kitchen with Ali Preble. It’s an inviting spot with soft lighting and wood flooring and shelves brimming with irresistible food. Before you leave, be sure to place your order for one of Part & Parcel’s scrumptious homemade tourtieres (a Canadian meat pie made with minced meats and potatoes), pies, and gifts. “Stay tuned for information about hosting your own holiday gathering in our space,” Danielle says.

Customers are encouraged to order a homemade tourtiere while dining on Part & Parcel’s patio.

After all this walking around Biddeford, you’re probably ready for a rest and reboot. Luckily, our next-to-last stop, Tulu Salon & Spa, located in the Pepperell Center, has you covered. “My hope was for Tulu Salon & Spa to be a colorful, warm environment staffed with highly skilled technicians,” says owner Terra Johnson, who has over 25 years of experience in the beauty industry herself. With complimentary beverages (including wine), a private room (for use by request), and six medical-grade HEPA filtration systems, you’ll be hard-pressed to not feel stylish and healthy while you receive your cut and color, facial, or other treatment from Tulu’s lengthy menu. “Our product lines are safe and chemical-free, including our own hair-product line, Surface. It’s certified organic and free of gluten, sulfate, parabens, and it’s also approved by PETA,” says Terra, adding, “We offer refills on a lot of our products, and will reward you with a discount if you participate!”

The final stop on this tour of Biddeford is Big Tree Grocery, a so-called pandemic baby, according to Big Tree Hospitality’s Marketing & Communications Director Kristin Rocha. “When our hospitality group’s restaurants (Eventide Oyster Co., The Honey Paw, Hugo’s, and Eventide Fenway) were closed due to the pandemic, we realized we would need to pivot in order to feed people where they were … in their own kitchens!” Kristin explains. Now, shoppers can get access to the same supreme house-made ingredients Big Tree’s chefs work with every day, sourced from the same local farmers and fishermen. “We also offer meal kits, creating shortcuts for customers to prepare restaurant quality food at home,” Kristin says. That seems like downtown Biddeford in a nutshell: Sophisticated but down to earth, it makes you feel right at home.