“Hold on,” Sharon Smiley says into the phone, laughing. “I am going to have to find a quietish spot. In a retail store in November.” She’s the owner of Local Market, an eclectic mix of cafe and deli, market stand, local foods and goods which opened in Brunswick in the summer of 2012. We had called her because we found so many great items at Local for our sustainable gift guide that we wanted to know more about what went into the retail operation. Smiley co-owns Local with Sylvia Wyler, whose Wyler Gallery has been a mainstay in downtown Brunswick for more than two decades.

GOING LOCAL: Wyler had a tenant in the space Local now occupies, a much-loved casual dining spot called Lilee’s Public House. When that restaurant ran into financial difficulty in the spring of 2012, the two women, who are also partners in real life, decided they’d fill the void themselves. And to fit a need they saw on a personal level. “Sylvia and I would find ourselves on Sundays driving to Portland,” Smiley said. They’d hit spots like Rosemont Market. “We didn’t have anything like that in Brunswick, so we’d schlep for fresh bread and cheese and charcuterie,” she remembers. They decided they’d offer all of that, and maybe more. “Within about 20 minutes of the initial conversation we had the entire concept, the name, where we would source, what we would stock.” This includes bread from Standard Baking Co., fresh seven days a week.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: “I think that four years ago was the real beginning of the maker movement in Maine. There were always people here doing it, but it seemed to explode around then.” They did a quick but thorough remodel in five weeks and turned the kitchen into a licensed commercial kitchen to both pack food to go and allow others to use the space for value-added farm products. Then they opened the doors under the name Local. On day 2, farmer Sean Hagan of Left Field Farm in Bowdoinham showed up. He handed Smiley a business card printed on an antique letter press (he was transitioning into full-time farming). “Being a paper geek myself, I loved his business card.” They made a deal that continues to this day for fresh vegetables and fruits, which are tucked into a corner of the market. They also work with Farm Fresh Connection for produce.

PAPER GEEK: For 20 years, Smiley had been a distributor of handmade gifts and stationery – that’s how she met Wyler, who keeps those items in stock at Wyler Gallery. She’d grown up in Brunswick on an old horse farm, and her grandfather was Henry Baribeau, who has a street named after him. It was quite a draw for local kids, she remembers. “There was a pretty enticing pond and lots of animals. And lots of berries to pick.” Smiley went away to study filmmaking and then returned to the state after stints in New York and Boston. Her love of the visual arts continues and is well represented on the walls of Local, where area artists show their work in five- to six-week mini shows. “Just like the farmers that we wanted to provide a venue for, this is something that we feel strongly about.” The local theme extends to Wyler Gallery, where more than half the jewelry for sale is made by local artisans.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: “Our original thought was to be diversified, so that if we had a poor performing category we could switch gears. I would say what is surprising to us is the amount of frozen prepared meals we are selling.” Like? Chicken puttanesca, lamb shepherd’s pie, stews, meatballs, all made by their two on-site chefs. “It’s a growing trend.” They’ve also doubled their grocery section, thanks to more value-added products coming out of Maine makers. “We have a lot more to choose from, and the customers are asking for more.”

LOCAL HERO: So customers are hip to what they’re up to? “They want to know where the materials were sourced, where it is being produced, is it ethical when it comes to stones (in the jewelry at Wyler). As far as food goes, they want to know, is it made without GMOs, how much sugar is in it. We get into some really in-depth conversations with customers.” As much as possible, they try to connect producers with customers. On a recent Saturday, the place was packed with people sampling Winter Hill cheeses and meeting cheesemaker Sarah Wiederkehr as well as trying Jen Legnini’s Turtle Rock spreads and canned goods.

WISH LIST: There are a few items Smiley and Wyler would like to stock but have had trouble finding within what would ideally be a 15-mile range. “I wish that we had some local dried cured meat folks right in the neighborhood. That is one thing that I really can’t put my hands on.” Locally made crackers would be a bonus, too, to go with all that local cheese (you can find Maine cheeses such as Hahn’s End from Phippsburg in their cases). “I can’t even tell you how many crackers we sell.” She does sell two kinds of Maine-made crackers from Waterville, Maine Crisp Company, which are gluten free, made with buckwheat and are entirely locally sourced, but there’s more room in the marketplace. Are you listening, Mainers?

 


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