The next Portland Public Market?

The next Portland Public Market? 
Vendors group eyes old Surplus Store

By Chris Busby

Several longtime tenants of the Portland Public Market have banded together to seek a new home, and they may have just found one: the Clapp Building in Monument Square, last occupied by the Surplus Store. 

The proprietors of Maine Beer and Beverage, K. Horton’s Specialty Foods, and the flower shop A Country Bouquet have teamed with Borealis Breads to look for a new, communal retail space downtown, according to Maine Beer and Beverage co-owner Bill Milliken. The group has explored a number of potential properties over the past few weeks, Milliken said, and is excited about the prospect of setting up shop less than a block from the Public Market.

Discussions with the building’s owner, Alex Tessman, are at an early stage, and no lease has yet been signed. But Milliken and specialty foods shop owner Kris Horton toured the property with Tessman and a banker May 30, and provided Tessman with letters stating their interest in pursuing the space. 

[Tessman also invited this reporter to tour the historic building. Photos taken during that tour can be viewed here].

Tessman and his wife, Dr. Rowena Tessman, own PROTEA Behavioral Health Services, a for-profit mental health and substance abuse services provider based in Bangor. PROTEA has facilities in over 10 Maine towns and cities, including an office on Forest Avenue. 

Alex Tessman said he recently leased the Clapp building, with an option to buy it, from developer Jeffrey Cohen, who bought it in 2004. The Surplus Store closed at the end of that year, after over 50 years on the four-story building’s ground floor. It has not been occupied since. 

Tessman said he originally intended to open another PROTEA location in the Clapp building, but federal budget cuts in the health and human services sector dissuaded him from pursuing that plan. (Tessman said a city inspections employee also dissuaded him from opening a medical facility in the square, but he had already decided against that when the city employee contacted PROTEA.)

Milliken said the group envisions using the ground floor space for their individual retail operations. A shared kitchen could be built in the basement, and retail businesses could also occupy the second floor. Milliken suggested a pub could occupy the third floor, and Tessman is eying the top story for a residence with a rooftop garden – though again, these are very preliminary ideas, Tessman and Milliken said.

The Libra Foundation – the non-profit, philanthropic entity that built and owns the Portland Public Market – is reportedly close to finalizing a deal to sell the market as part of a mega-package of downtown real estate. The interested buyer has not yet been publicly named. 

Anticipating that the new owner will not continue to run the Public Market as a market, most vendors have been scrambling to find new locations. Maine’s Pantry is heading to Commercial Street, and Portland Spice Company is preparing to move to Vannah Avenue. A vendor campaign to “save the market” seems to have collapsed.

Milliken said a new mini-market in the Clapp building would be at least six months from opening, given the expected length of financial negotiations and construction. The group may call their collective endeavor “The New Public Market” or simply “The Public Market,” he said, and would seek to involve community groups in the enterprise.

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