UNE students Julia Steeves of Skowhegan, left, Kaitlyn Quirk of Londonderry, N.H., center, and Becca Kryceski of Hanover, Md., gather at Elements, one of the businesses that has been credited with helping to spur the turnaround in downtown Biddeford. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A month into the pandemic, Heart of Biddeford put out a challenge to the community: raise $2,000 to buy meals from local restaurants and serve to front-line workers.

Within days, the community had pitched in more than $14,000 to support restaurants that could serve only takeout and desperately needed a boost. Delilah Poupore, Heart of Biddeford’s executive director, wasn’t surprised. That’s what she’s come to expect from a city laser-focused on coming together to revitalize and support its downtown.

On Monday, Heart of Biddeford, a nonprofit that fosters economic development and downtown improvements, received the Great American Main Street Award, given annually by Main Street America to recognize communities for excellence in revitalizing commercial districts. Main Street America is a program of the National Main Street Center, which has worked with more than 2,000 communities across the country to bring economic vitality to downtown areas.

Heart of Biddeford was recognized for its commitment to creating places of shared prosperity, equal access to opportunity and inclusive engagement, including partnering with veterans’ organizations to host parades, hosting monthly meet-ups for female entrepreneurs, collaborating with Black Owned Maine to increase the organization’s capacity to incubate and promote Black-owned businesses, and raising the inaugural Pride flag in the city.

“Biddeford proves that equity and inclusion are the future of the Main Street movement,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of Main Street America. “Their work with Black-owned businesses, formerly incarcerated people, English Language Learners, and other groups has enriched the culture of the district and brought lasting economic change.”

Heart of Biddeford also was recognized for its commitment to historic preservation and community-based initiatives to share the full story of the city and reinforce the sense of place that makes Biddeford unique, improving façades and supporting small-scale development projects that transform neglected spaces, according to Main Street America.


“This is a huge honor for Heart of Biddeford, and we accept this award on behalf of thousands of volunteers, our municipal, cultural and service partners, and the business community,” Poupore said. “While we hope to become more inclusive and sustainable over time, we are very proud of our efforts to innovate during challenging times and to work in a connected way toward a common vision.”

Revitalization work led by Heart of Biddeford began in 2004, five years before the city’s last textile mill closed and eight years before the city purchased the Maine Energy Recovery Center, paving the way for the redevelopment of the city’s downtown. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Revitalization work led by Heart of Biddeford began in 2004, five years before the city’s last textile mill closed. By that point, millions of square feet of mill space already sat empty and vacant storefronts dotted downtown. A trash incinerator operated a couple of blocks off Main Street, earning the city the nickname “Trashtown.”

“All of the decades of closures, of loss of jobs, of seeing Main Street be filled with more blight than businesses was such an emotionally crushing thing for people who have lived in Biddeford and had built Biddeford,” Poupore said. “Every step forward might be five steps backward for a long time. That was demoralizing to people.”

The Heart of Biddeford’s early focus was on creating opportunities to bring people downtown for events and through beautification initiatives. It became an accredited Maine Street America program in 2007 and led the downtown master planning process from 2009 to 2011.

That master planning process played a big part in shifting the energy downtown because it allowed people in the community to talk about what mattered the most and create a shared vision for the city, Pourpore said. Most people said that the time they wanted to find a way to move the Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator on Lincoln Street, a step Heart of Biddeford advocated the city take.

“I think getting that positive energy and vision for the future helped the city to make the really bold move of having MERC move on and to encourage different development in the downtown,” Poupore said.



The city purchased the MERC property in 2012, ushering in millions of dollars in new investments in the mill district and on Main Street. In the decade since the trash incinerator closed, mills have been transformed for residential and commercial uses, new small businesses have opened and the city’s restaurants attracted national attention.

The energy around the revitalization made the city a more desirable place to live – especially for younger adults – and pushed up property values. But the new popularity also caused growing pains, particularly around a housing crunch that has priced people out of the city.

In the past few years, Heart of Biddeford has focused on diversity, inclusion and equity to make sure the future plans for Biddeford reflect the people in the community. During the pandemic, the organization secured grant funding to work with Black Owned Maine and five local Black-owned businesses on a marketing campaign.

The organization also has started focus groups for women and LGBTQ business owners and is working with a range of others, including New Mainers, English language learners and formerly incarcerated people.

Poupore said work to help revitalize Biddeford would not have been possible without the support of the community and people who became early leaders in investing in the city, including mill developer Doug Sanford. Businesses like Reilly’s, a fourth-generation bakery, and Elements, a bookstore and coffee shop, helped set the stage for other businesses to move downtown and flourish, she said.

Anne Ball, program director at Maine Development Foundation, said the statewide organization is proud of Heart of Biddeford for earning the Great American Main Street Award.

“They are an open and welcoming community and embrace their past while welcoming newcomers to their wonderful historic mill town,” she said in a statement. “They are an exceptional statewide leader and we learn from them every day.”

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