Explore Maine’s Winter Wonderland: Norway

With its close-knit downtown and collaborative businesses, Norway may just be one of the warmest and most welcoming towns in America. And a day there may be just what your winter needs
Words By Alexandra Hall
Photos By Lauryn Hottinger

The nice thing about living in a small town,” philosopher Immanuel Kant once quipped, “is that when you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else does.” Most of us would interpret that as a mildly snarky barb, respond with a chuckle, and then go about our day. But a visit to the town of Norway gives it new meaning—one that’s actually layered with praise. “We know our neighbors and their stores so well,” says Darlene Dadian-Gray, whose shop, The Raven Collections, is flanked by a stable of other independent businesses on Main Street, “that we’re always referring customers to them if we don’t have what they’re looking for, and vice versa. It’s one of the ways we all support each other.”

The thing is, she actually means that. And when you talk to the rest of the town’s shopkeepers, they all enthusiastically tell you pretty much the same thing. Moreover, that acute sense of community seems to shine even more brightly during the holidays and deep into wintertime, when this small town rolls out a big welcome—with festive decor in its shops nestled in Victorian and Greek Revival buildings (Main Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and the occasional hot cider after an afternoon of, say, snowshoeing or ice-skating in town. And during the season, the lot of them extend their opening hours on Friday nights for shopping, and offer service so personal and helpful, it often benefits neighboring businesses as much as, if not more than, their own. This issue’s Drive story explores all of the above—and the uncommon spirit of cooperation that supports it all. 

At Dolce Amici, savor small-batch gelato and panini by day, savory specials and cocktails by night.

The camaraderie (as well as some excellent joe from Carrabassett Coffee Company) percolates at Cafe Nomad, where folks who’ve been coming here since owner Scott Berk opened the place in 2007 meet up to break bread, catch up, and make plans. Scott is also president of Norway Downtown, the nonprofit behind Main Street’s success. And around town he’s as well known as a community leader as his cafe is for its buttermilk pancakes. “I’m amazed by how passionate people here are about the town and each other,” he says. “Their hard work and collaboration are why it’s all so vibrant.” 

Even relative newcomers like Ian McQuinn, who bought The Tribune Books & Gifts next door to Cafe Nomad last year, feel that way. “We store owners all chitchat and grab lunch together,” he explains. “We want all of Main Street to thrive.” Ian considers his personal interactions at Tribune as essential a draw as his diverse inventory—a mélange of everything from sci-fi and mysteries to fiction and young adult bestsellers. “My favorite part is making recommendations,” he says. “Millennials and Gen Zers are used to the idea of not wanting to pester the person behind the register, but that interaction and special attention is what’s great about being a brick-and-mortar bookstore.”

Knitting groups and classes are regularly found gathered around the communal table at Fiber & Vine.

One storefront over sits Handmade Maine, where founder Gina Harlow takes a break from meticulously beveling and stamping her handmade bars of soap to point out some of her other favorite wares—the likes of teensy baby sweaters (made by 99-year-old knitter Charlotte Young out of Newburgh) and handmade clay Christmas ornaments from Wayne Village Pottery. “Of course we want to showcase our soaps,” she says, “but also support other Mainers. If we do well, then everyone does.”

Her neighbor, Darlene at the aforementioned The Raven Collections, says that same notion even extends to chores. “In winter we all help shovel out our neighbors and share sand,” she says. And her store, filled with rocks, gems, and minerals, is a regular stop for not only longtime collectors and gift hunters but also for the youngest of rock hounds. “We’re right near the elementary school,” she says, “so kids come in with their allowances on the way home.”

A day in Norway includes everything from bucolic vistas to lovingly made cannoli at Dolce Amici and rare minerals at The Raven Collections.

Meanwhile, all ages make themselves comfortable at the communal table one storefront over at Fiber & Vine. The ultra-cozy shop peddles the improbable combination of fiber arts (wool yarns in a rainbow of hues and felting kits, plus plenty of other notions) and a wall of international wines, and the place teems with people in for knitting groups and vino tastings. “My job is to constantly be inspiring people,” says owner Kimberly Hamlin, who also sells fair trade gifts like handmade hats, gloves, dish towels, and handbags. Kim is, in fact, business partners with Scott, whom she used to work for over at Cafe Nomad before they opened the shop together.

A more officially designated kind of community space is in the works next door; when the restoration of the 1887 Norway Opera House—its clock tower is a symbol of the town—is finished, the upper floor will be used as a shared creative performance space. Meanwhile, on the first floor you’ll find Brick & Mortar, owner Brendan Colter’s assemblage of high-quality home pieces: hand-carved stools, sea salt soaps, ceramic goblets, and sculptural mirrors. “We saw there was something special going on around here and wanted to be a part of it,” says Brendan. “This little town is really something—full of skilled artists and shopkeepers,” he says.

Ultra-cozy Fiber & Vine’s assemblage of fiber arts includes wool yarns, felting kits, and other notions.

True to its name, The Woods Maine, one building over, celebrates this area of the state with forest-ready and -themed goods like their own design collabs with companies like Sea Bags and Chappywrap’s winter wraps (an après-ski staple). “There are so many things you can do in the winter here, but in comfort and luxury,” says co-owner Sam Masabny. One of those things? To spend a few nights in the high-end, two-bedroom tree house she rents out, designed by renowned architect Pete Nelson, sitting on 10 acres of woods a five-minute drive away.

Seeing as we’ve veered off Main Street, it’s worth a further detour to Frost Farm Gallery, Bruce and Adrienne Little’s historic 1797 farmstead where they sell a jumble of original vintage prints, lithographs, fine china and linens, handmade jewelry, and Christmas decor year-round. The couple offers custom framing, too. “We try to listen more than anything,” says Bruce. “It’s a very personal process. Nothing is rushed here.”

Fiber & Vine peddles both yarn and international wines.
Local farmers bring their bounty straight from the fields to Fare Share Food Co-op.

Back downtown and on the other side of Main Street, carve out time for a mini-respite at Norway Brewing Company, which slings local foods (the Cuban sandwich stars roasted Maine pork with mojo sauce) and brews named after neighboring businesses, like the IPA session named for Green Machine, next door. The latter store is a husband-and-wife-owned biking and back-country ski shop, which for 10 years has outfitted those headed out to ride or trek the trails of nearby Western Foothills Land Trust/Roberts Farm Preserve. 

After a swing through 100 Aker Wood—the place in town to pick up fine art supplies to both create your opus and then have it custom framed—it’s on to Widdershins Antiques to find, well, just about anything. Owner James Barrett loads his shelves with everything from used fishing gear and vintage plaid suitcases to midcentury modern side tables and boho dresses. “It doesn’t slow down in the winter here,” says James. “I get new things in every day, so people come in and want to see what’s new.”

Similarly, a steady stream of locals and visitors flows through Dolce Amici—serving small-batch gelato and panini by day, and plates of handmade gnocchi with Bolognese by night. Oh, and cocktails. (The tequila-laced Cider House Rules is a winter favorite.) Co-owner Lourdes Rubio also hosts four-course, prix fixe, communal dinners through winter, complete with live music. “They’re very intimate, and they get lots of people together,” she observes.

The area’s quiet pockets of nature are their own attraction.

Togetherness is even more central next door at Fare Share Food Co-op, here since 1978 and full of employees who enjoy working together so much, you may actually see them hugging in the aisles. “What matters to us is creating community,” says Zizi Vlaun, who’s been a manager here for 20 years. And though it may be the tahini chocolate chip cookies and high-quality bulk foods that keep people coming back, Zizi explains that it’s the 700-member co-op board that’s kept the place going strong. “This is a business model that’s worked over the years,” she says, gesturing past the store window to the rest of the town, “because we have so many dedicated people to rely on.”

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