The historic Bartol building, formerly the Freeport library and then an Abercrombie & Fitch has been vacant for two years. The Forecaster file photo.

FREEPORT — After two years of vacancy, Freeport’s historic Bartol building will have the lights on once again, at least through the holiday season and possibly beyond. 

Freeport Town Manager Peter Joseph announced Tuesday night that officials have made an agreement with the Cumberland and Falmouth Farmers Market to set up a temporary weekend makers’ market this holiday season. 

The organization will stay for at least the month of December, but has indicated they might stay longer, Joseph told the town council. 

The town has struggled to find a use for the building since December 2018.

Located at 55 Main Street, the building is still on the rental market, Joseph said, but the use is “a nice sign, even if it’s only a temporary use.” 

There are “a few people sniffing around,” he said, but at the very least, the market will expose more people to the inside of the building and “maybe something will come out of it.” 

The building was designed by Portland architect George Burnham and built in 1906 with help from a $6,500 grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, placing it among a group of about 1,600 “Carnegie Libraries” across the country. 

Named after benefactor and Freeport Native Barnabas Henry Bartol, it functioned as the public library until 1997 when the Freeport Community Library was moved to North Main Street

The town-owned building later housed retailers and was most recently occupied by Abercrombie & Fitch, which in 2018 vacated the space after about 18 years of occupancy. 

Abercrombie & Fitch paid about $350,000 annually in rent, Joseph told the Forecaster last year, and although the town offered to negotiate the lease, there was no interest from the retailer because it “wasn’t profitable for them.”

Some have suggested the town consider having the building serve as a community hub, offering space for the arts, a visitor’s center, museum, gallery, health care or educational uses.

Recently, the building has been used a handful of times as a venue for the occasional function, but they’ve been mostly “one-offs,” Keith McBride, director of the Freeport Economic Development Corporation said. 

The Bartol Building is bigger than what most potential tenants are looking for as a retail space, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot of insecurity around retail in general, making it a tough time to be marketing the location, McBride said. 

The roughly 6,660 thousand square foot building is valued at about $1.7 million, according to town property records. 

One thing is clear though: “The community has been really clear about wanting to hang onto it as a potential community asset and historical asset,” he said. 

McBride is hopeful that eventually it will find a tenant to regenerate some of that lost revenue for the town.

The new market is an exciting step toward that possibility. 

The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult on Freeport’s downtown businesses, he said, and the community relies on people to come experience what the downtown area has to offer. 

The holiday shopping season is especially important for the retail-driven local economy, but in order for that to be successful, “that means bringing some new life and some new energy to downtown,” McBride said. 

The makers’ market will feature everything from winter vegetables and baked goods to gifts and other wares from 10 Maine-based vendors. 

An indoor  winter market will be a first for the Cumberland and Falmouth Farmers Market, and while only about half the size of the successful summer endeavors, marketing director and vendor Don Gaile said he thinks it “could be the start of something really exciting.” 

Gaile said the summer markets were busier than ever this year, with people coming out in “droves” for fresh food and local crafts. 

When the season wrapped up this fall, he said, market management decided to look “for an opportunity to continue that momentum and find a place inside.” 

Gaile, a Freeport resident, immediately thought of the Bartol building. 

“I knew it was empty and that the town owns it. I thought it would be easier to work with the town because they have a vested interest in making Freeport successful,” versus a remote landlord looking to make a profit, he said. 

As a resident, he’s watched as Freeport has worked to market itself as a destination for more than just retail, and while the market will be more retail, he still believes “we fit that mold perfectly,” he said. “We have people who offer something you can’t get anywhere else.” 

Located in the heart of downtown, the building is in a good location for foot traffic, and with added signs, some decorations to make it “warm and cozy,” they’re hopeful for a positive reception.

“This is an experiment, Gaile said. “We’re happy to try this out, see how it goes.”

The market will run Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. starting Dec. 5. For more information visit cumberlandfalmouthfarmmarket.com or email [email protected].

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