Barrels Community Market
Article and photos by Kimberly Michaud
March 20th, 2010
The food is all natural, organic, and locally grown. With apples from Fairfield and Skowhegan, bread from Litchfield and Newport, the sense of Maine’s resources is overwhelming. Barrels, which had its soft opening in June and grand opening in September, is constantly pushing to find new products that are made in Maine. Mittens, Notebooks, coffee, pastries, cheese, soda, and soap are just some of the items one can find at this store. The idea of Barrels is community, which is never more evident than when one walks through their doors.
One is greeted with friendly smiles and polite down-to-earth people; the employees as well as the volunteers are all here for the same reasons, because they believe that in order for this business to prosper you must give your time and energy to their cause. Barrels’ goal is to integrate into the community the idea of buying locally whenever possible; from the simplest item such as pumpkins to the strangest-looking edible gourd, David and Mikey want to show the people what we Mainers are capable of producing. They want to show people that buying locally benefits the community, and if the local markets are prosperous then the community of Waterville benefits as well. “You never know what you’ll find! It’s all local, supporting the local economy, and it’s a friendly, comfortable space,” says customer Karen Walker.
The volunteers as well as the customers are all saying the same thing: that it is nice to know where your food comes from. People relish the fact that what they are buying is natural, local, and has few to no chemicals added. Buying locally not only helps to revitalize and boost the economy of downtown Waterville, it also gives the chance to get the word out about unknown suppliers from Maine. Barrels have hundreds of suppliers from all around the state; most anything you can think of Barrels carries. Farm fresh eggs are a popular item, as well as the many different kinds of pottery.
“The amount of people who are committed to supporting us is phenomenal,” says Manager David Gulak. Volunteers do a number of tasks that greatly help out the shorthanded crew of two. Everything from cleaning and stocking shelves to picking up supplies, volunteers are a huge asset to barrels. Each volunteer contributes not only their time but also their perspectives and ideas of how to make barrels better. Barrels is like a community farm, if each person works the farm, plants the seeds, waters the crops, then each person can take responsibility when it grows.
Barrels is not just a store but also a hangout for local college students looking for a place to do their schoolwork. Barrels brings the people of the community in, from volunteering to hanging out, to buying the goods, everyone gets to know one another here. Barrels’ parent organization is Waterville Main Street, which is also a nonprofit organization that works to revitalize the downtown. Together they are working at making this indoor farmers market a success. The downstairs at Barrels is shared by Fresh Water Arts, which gives a variety of art lessons for children as well as adults. They have pottery, drawing, soap carving, and recyclable art. Together they are working at bringing people back to the downtown and working together to make local businesses thrive.
Barrels is not only a community market, it is also a community events center. The events that are held here are often ones that are aimed at teaching people things such as composting, cost-effective energy upgrades, and growing your own organic garden. They also do apple and cheese tastings and this is usually a time when the local musicians play. Barrels also hosts Meet the Reps once a month. This is where people of the community can come in and enjoy some of barrels’ foods, as well as meet their state representatives. This allows the people of the community to meet and ask any questions that may be on their minds.
Barrels got its name quite a long time ago; in the 1900s Waterville was the shopping center for central Maine. From ’72 to ’76, Main Street was known as the Barrel Block, which had many stores, such as a ladies’ department store and a discount chain from Boston.
One of the many great things about Barrels market is that it was built by the workers, volunteers, and suppliers. Everyone had a part in the making of it, people from all over the state came together to help. Chuck Lakin, a local master woodworker, built all of the display shelves in the market, while many other local artists painted the mural on the wall that depicts a farm. Along the wall is painted the name of every person who had a hand in volunteering to help open Barrels market. Right from the beginning, the number of people who wanted to help get Barrels open was phenomenal, from ages seven to sixty-seven, people flocked to this former shoe store and did jobs such as rip up carpet, sand floors, build displays, and paint the mural.
One of Barrels’ big beliefs is “recycle and reuse.” Their day-old bread goes to local food banks around town, and other old produce gets composted. Mikey and David are committed in making sure that nothing goes to waste and also to reducing the amount of trash. Barrel’s is constantly looking for new products and volunteers.
Barrels got started because of a need the community had for a year-round indoor farmers market. Every year Waterville Main Street asks the community what they would like to see come into their downtown, and for years now the responses have been the same, a market.
Shannon Haines, the executive director of WMS and David Gulak got together and found the means to get things started, with the help of Colby College who gave the market a $15,000 grant to get it all started. David Gulak worked with Colby and Unity College students who went searching the state of Maine for suppliers for the store. “Everyone who comes into Barrels all say they wish they had a market like ours in their town,” says Mikey Owens. By word of mouth, phone calls, the Internet, and long hours driving around, Barrels now has hundreds of suppliers and more new products coming in daily. With all the hard work that is put in by the workers as well as the volunteers, Barrels will continue to be a success.