Saturday, April 02, 2016

Sanford, Maine

Gears left when the Mills moved away

Maine is a beautiful state that is sparsely populated and performs the necessary duty of a cornerstone state.  The border is shared by the self proclaimed "Live Free or Die" folks from New Hampshire to the west and those wacky Canadians up north of us.  To the east, a convoluted rocky coastline of 3500 miles keeps the Atlantic ocean at bay.  There were at last count, 1.33 million people living in an area of 35,385 square miles, or about 43 people per square mile.  Most of the people here live in the lower third of the state, giving us Mainers a wonderfully wild and gorgeous state to call home.

But this is not about Maine.  This about a town much maligned over the years that has pulled itself up by its bootstraps and has finally re-defined itself.

Sanford is a small town that has proven itself a survivor, regardless of the bad rap it gets from those high pocket towns on the coast or at the bottom of ski slopes up country.  Sanford, from the very beginning, was a blue collar mill community.  The Mousam river offered readily available power to numerous mills as far back as the mid 1700's.  In the mid 1800's, Sanford began to flourish when the Goodall's opened their first textile mill.  For the next century, Sanford was a key producer of the cloth that America used and exported.

In the mid 1960's, the textile industry packed its things and moved south.  After a decade in Dixie, Textiles once again packed their bags and moved to foreign shores, never to come back again.  Sanford has rebounded, but it took a half century.  Now it hosts small manufacturing efforts and serves as a bedroom community for Portland and parts south.  The Mousam River still runs through it, only now it is cleaner with less diversion than it had when the town's thousand looms were running 24/7.

I am a self employed small retailer in Springvale, a small village that is part of Sanford.  My bike shop is situated only 8 miles from my home in nearby Acton.  Owning an independent brick and mortar operation on Main Street anywhere in America is a tough row to hoe.  In a community where mid income is something to envy, it is a very tough roe to hoe.

I could have located my shop closer to the money that flows up and down the Maine Turnpike.  It would have certainly meant more chinga ching in the till.  But I don't own a bike shop to make money so much as I own a bike shop because I enjoy providing a service for the good people who live around me.

Money is important, but it has never been my prime motivator.  I derive enjoyment, fulfillment if you will, in the act of labor.  Money is a reward, but no less important is the pleasure I get when I can make someone's day by servicing their bike, providing information, or just being there to hear what is happening in their lives at that moment.

Over the years Sanford has earned my loyalty and my respect by its tenacity and refusal to go away.  It has, like any community, institutionalized madness that drives me crazy sometimes.  But at its heart, the movers and shakers are good people who constantly look to improve the lot of Sanford's citizenry.  Any small part I can have in that effort is what makes me continue to open my doors.

Later ..................................


Ol'Buzzard said...

I remember the quaint places of Maine in the sixties. There are still a few of them around. But change happens... Farmington is a great village, but has grown so much it only resembles the quaintness of yesterday.
the Ol'Buzzard

BBC said...

It isn't so small by some standards. The population was 20,798 in the 2010 census, making it the seventh largest municipality in the state. The town I'm in is about the same population, seems plenty big to me.

There is a bike shop here on Austin Ave. One man shop, I guess he is doing well enough to stay open.

MRMacrum said...

Ol'Buzzard - Yeah, I remember my visits to Acton as a child visiting my Aunt and Uncle in the late 1950s. At least half the roads in town were still dirt and in the big snow storms, you might not see a plow for 2 or 3 days. Depended on where you lived.

BBC - By Maine standards, Sanford is a huge town. Matter of fact, a couple or three years ago it had it's designation changed from "town" to "city". But even if you cram more people in and change the name, if the sidewalks are still being rolled up by 9 at night and there are only 10 or so stop lights, and the biggest problem besidesthe opiod craze is junior rednecks and their jacked up 20 year old pick ups. No, Sanford can call itself whatever it wants, it will always be a small town at heart.

yellowdoggranny said...

I know about town's coming back...West is less than 3,000 and after the explosion a lot of people thought the ones that lost people or homes or business's would move away...we did lose some..but we have built over 150 new homes, a emergency building, SOKOL building, a nursing home and the high school/middle school will be ready by this coming school year I think...

The Blog Fodder said...

Your philosophy of life is well worth emulating. Nice to hear about communities making a comeback.

Tom Harper said...

Nice evocative description of Sanford. I loved the towns of Bethel, Rumford and Bryant Pond in western Maine, near the New Hampshire border. I haven't been there since the early '70s. Downtown Rumford looked gritty and industrial; the other 2 towns were a lot smaller and more quaint. Beautiful scenery everywhere. I hope that area hasn't gotten too overpopulated or gentrified or trendy in the 45 years since I've been there.