Maybe you saw the cartoon – even today, it pops up here and there. It first ran in the Dec. 17, 1984, issue of The New Yorker magazine, and shows a cocktail party where a woman chit-chats with a nattily dressed man. “Maine?” she says. “What an authentic place to come from.”

Will Hall

The meaning of “authentic” is unclear, and that’s the point. Many of us have ideas about what it means – what it really, genuinely means – to come from Maine, a place that has come to symbolize realness and genuineness.

Companies have their own ideas about such Maineness.

But in a time when no one seems to trust anything beyond a bubble of influencers, there’s little faith in corporate image-making. And the question of who’s a Maine business has gotten murkier as more home-grown companies have sold to, merged with or otherwise morphed into ones beyond the state borders.

Consider Poland Spring, the bottled-water business founded in Maine over 150 years ago and eventually purchased by Perrier and later Nestle. In 2021, Poland Spring changed hands again, selling to a New York private equity firm and a Connecticut billionaire. Last month, the new owners declined to renew the trademark for Poland Spring’s familiar tagline, which had been in use since 1992.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “What it means to be from Maine” is now a dead mark, and meaningless.



To be sure, out-of-state investment can be a good thing for Maine businesses, and they’ve attracted a lot of it recently.

In 2022, Maine businesses acquired by non-Maine ones included Hartt Transportation, a 75-year-old Bangor trucking company; Clark Insurance, one of the state’s largest insurance agencies; and Maritime Farms convenience stores, which operate in 11 Midcoast communities. Covetrus, founded as Vets First Choice and formerly the largest public company based in Maine, remains here but is no longer owned by public investors from the state or anywhere else – in October, Covetrus was snapped up for $4 billion by private equity firms in New York and San Francisco.

The deals don’t appear to have changed the identities of these Maine businesses. In general, though, I can’t help wondering which acquired companies will retain their Maineness and which, like Poland Spring, will water it down.

Some businesses are looking to simply acquire Maineness itself. One example: A group of successful restaurants known as The Maine, whose website describes them as “New England brasseries” with the tagline “the way life should be.”

You might think The Maine would be in this Maine, or at least nearby. Instead, The Maine is 6,500 miles away, in the United Arab Emirates. Three glitzy Maine-dubbed restaurants have opened in Dubai since 2015. A fourth eatery, which premiered in 2021, is a little closer. It’s in London.


Cashing in on the Maine mystique is nothing new, of course, and The Maine isn’t the only business doing it. In fact, “Maine” is now part of 488 federally registered trademarks, according to the trademark office. Per capita, Maine ranks No. 4 among states for names making up the most marks. Another analysis, by a branding consultant in 2013, found Maine’s familiar geographic outline was used in more trademarked logos – again, adjusted for population – than any state “map” except Alaska’s.

The Maine trademark holders include ones you’d expect. There’s also a body products company named Born in Maine but actually born in Cincinnati. A T-shirt company branded as Maine Shack in Denver. A fitness video company called Maine Sunlight and based in Alabama.

Still, Dubai?


Some businesses with authentic Maine roots try to make the most of them. Think L.L.Bean, Oakhurst Dairy and insert-your-favorite-here. Hundreds of artists and craftspeople participate in Maine Made, a state-sponsored program that markets the handiwork of Maine residents.

But it’s time to do more.


Like it or not, Maine desperately needs to attract more employers and residents from other places if it is to thrive. The attraction for many will include Maineness, however it’s defined. For businesses, the definition will be made by the businesses that are already here.

So let’s wear that distinction like a badge of honor. If you’re a Maine business, if you’re headquartered here, if you were founded here, then say it loud and say it proud. You’re a Maine-Based Business.

Think about what that distinction might mean. If states have become brands, and Maine is a state of authenticity, then why not lean into it? Maine should become synonymous with a certain way of doing business, and our businesses should be known as the Delaware corporations of corporate transparency and integrity.

Maybe your business, like the Press Herald and its parent company, should be an MBB.

What do you think? Am I just California dreamin’ here, or in a New York state of mind? If so, tell me about it. You can reach the Business Desk at

Will Hall is the business editor of the Portland Press Herald.

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