A downtown Wiscasset building damaged when pieces of its brick façade crumbled in early April has been secured, but questions about when repairs will begin and what caused the collapse remain months later.

Ralph Doering, whose family has owned the building since the 1980s, said the building is “secure, stable and ready for repairs to begin,” but the timeline of when those repairs will begin is still unknown. He cited a shortage in labor and ongoing insurance reviews as the reason for the delay.

“Right now all contractors are extremely busy due to the tremendous amount of construction taking place at the current time and cannot yet schedule when they can do the job,” Doering wrote in an email. “We are only using premium contractors to do this repair job, so we are waiting for them to advise as to when they will be available to do the work.”

On April 3, a layer of bricks peeled off the front of the 163-year-old Wawenock Block building at 67 Main St., showering the sidewalk. No one was injured in the collapse.

Doering’s representative, Mark Robinson, did not return requests for comments about what caused the initial collapse, how much it will cost to repair the building, and whether other buildings in the area built around the same time have been inspected to see if they’re at risk of a similar fate.

Doering said the project’s general contractor recommended waiting until mid-September to begin repairing the building so the project doesn’t interfere with the area’s swell of summer tourists.

The scaffolding supporting and protecting the building blocks a portion of the sidewalk, but much of it remains open to pedestrians. Main Street is also clear — good news for the thousands of cars that pass through downtown Wiscasset each day, especially in the area’s busy summer season.

According to the most recent data from the Maine Department of Transportation, over 17,000 vehicles drove through Wiscasset on Route 1 each day in 2019.

The building housed two commercial tenants: the Wiscasset Bay Gallery and In A Silent Way, a wine bar. The second and third floors of the building are vacant, Robinson told The Times Record.

The Wiscasset Bay Gallery was able to move to an available commercial space next to their original location and have a successful summer season thus far, said gallery owner Keith Oehmig.

“Sales have been strong,” he said. “People have been indoors for the last year and now they’re ready to get out and buy beautiful things for their home.”

Oehmig said this is the best summer season the gallery has seen since 2018, but said “We don’t know what normal is anymore. So many things have changed, we don’t really know what to compare it to anymore.”

The gallery lost business in the summer of 2019 when a large construction project that took away street front parking planted itself outside the gallery’s front door on Main Street. The following year, the COVID-19 pandemic limited the number of people who could enter the gallery at a time.

“We’ve felt the impact of losing our street front parking, but because the economy is so robust now, people who come in are buying things, so it makes up the difference,” he said. “Overall, things are strong and we’re optimistic.”

So far this summer, Oehmig said he’s seeing about 30-40 customers each day, and people are taking a liking to the gallery’s new location.

“The new space looks great and we have about the same amount of square footage,” said Oehmig. “In some ways it’s a fresh start. Some people have said they like it better than our old space.”

With business at the gallery booming, Oehmig said he’d prefer crews wait until the fall to repair the Wawenock Block’s façade because “most of the work is external and will involve a lot of people and equipment, and that could be a big distraction to people passing by.”

While the Wiscasset Bay Gallery was able to pivot quickly without impacting its business, In a Silent Way has yet to reopen after the Wawenock Block was damaged.

According to In a Silent Way co-owner Chandler Sowden, the wine bar made the decision to relocate after the Wawenock Block was assessed and it became apparent repairs wouldn’t happen any time soon. The wine bar’s new location is 51 Water Street, around the corner from its original location.

“We don’t have an anticipated opening date but it probably won’t be this summer,” said Sowden. “We’ll most likely open sometime this fall. It’s better than nothing. The town of Wiscasset has been so supportive and it’s nice that we get to keep our neighbors.”

In A Silent Way co-owners Sowden and Zack Goodwin first opened the wine bar in July 2020. They signed the lease for the building in November 2019 and originally planned to open in the spring of 2020, but were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Sowden and Goodwin said they had a strong summer and fall season, being unable to open after the façade of their building crumbled was “a huge setback,” they told The Times Record in April.

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