The Brewmaster, Cambridge, Maine

My admittedly brief visits to Cambridges in NY, Vermont, and Maine have, nonetheless, left me feeling very connected to these communities.  I’ve already written about how I was happy about the opening of East Outlet Brewing in Cambridge, Maine, so naturally I needed to speak with its founder.

East Outlet logoImagining that someone who just started a new enterprise would be busy, I wasn’t sure we’d find a good time to talk by phone.  But with relatively little fuss, on a recent afternoon, I was chatting with Nathan DiMeo, who started the brewery and restaurant, which he said is “Doing a really good business.  This will be the fifth weekend coming.  We’ve got the wood fired pizza, our own homemade beer, and live glass blowing.”

Nathan isn’t originally from Cambridge, but he said he’s lived there for about 13 years, after a move from New Hampshire (which I understand is also the path followed by the town’s founders in the 1800s).  “We just happened to be driving through, looking for houses in Maine.  We started looking at a house in Cambridge in the center of town, and we ended up liking it.”  What did he like about Cambridge?  “We were just looking for a smaller community, a little less craziness.  Cambridge is just a really laid-back town.” Moultonborough, New Hampshire, where Nathan started, would still be called a small town, but one with more summer tourism.

For most of the length of his residence in Cambridge, Nathan said he has worked from home.  He also blows glass, which explains the inclusion of that theme in the restaurant’s weekly offerings, though he told me, “I mostly have other glass blowers coming in.  I’m manning the oven at the moment.”

As for how he got into this business, Nathan said, “I had done home brewing for eight or nine years now.  I never worked in a commercial brewery.”  And East Outlet doesn’t yet reach the scale of a significant commercial brewery, given the size of the equipment he uses.  “I purchased the system two years ago.  It’s still a small system.  It’s a home brew/commercial version, so it was easy for me to convert over to use it.”  He said they’ll upgrade to a larger system soon, but, “We’re mostly going to be selling in this area of Maine.  We probably will never make it past Portland with this size system.”

The restaurant is open on Friday and Saturday and Nathan is able to rely on friends for staffing.  “We have a family friend doing the waitressing and we have one worker in the kitchen making pizza, and then there’s me doing the brewing and all that.”

East Outlet comedy nightRegarding his motivation for starting the restaurant and brewery, Nathan said, “Our whole goal was to bring a little bit of city vibe, Portland vibe, but keep it country.  We love artwork so we have spray painting around the walls, the glass blowing, the live music, a comedian coming on Saturday.  We’re trying to do something different, not the same thing that’s always here.”

I asked Nathan about his customers, and he answered, “I would say it’s a half-and-half mix.  We have an older crowd who comes and a younger crowd.  Not everyone is from Cambridge, some people travel to Cambridge.”  Is he seeing a lot of friends at the restaurant?  “Yes, a lot of them are people I’ve just kind of met as I opened the place, and I do have a good number of friends who are rooting me on in there.”  But even some folks who weren’t looking for a brewery are being supportive.  “There are people who have lived here for a long time, and they don’t want to change very much, but they have accepted this.  We do have them coming here.”

Not long before we spoke, I had been reading that there was an extended power outage in Cambridge, so it seemed worth asking about the challenges that Nathan was facing with a fledgling business.  In addition to the power outage — about which he didn’t say much more than “We have a generator now” — Nathan noted, “It’s not easy to become a brewery.  There’s a lot of licensing, a lot of figuring out if we can do this in this building, if the town will be okay with this.  We weren’t sure if people would be okay with it, but we’re not rowdy here, we’re not a bar.  There are no complaints yet, that we’ve heard of.”  And he noted that the the town selectmen have been there.

Looking ahead, aside from increasing the capacity of his brewing equipment, Nathan anticipates continuing with a busy restaurant.  “We’ll always have the live glassblowing and we’re going to try to have live music here each weekend.”

To me, it sounds like East Outlet Brewing will continue to provide a fun social setting for folks who want a weekend dinner without leaving Cambridge.

How would you describe Cambridge
I would definitely say it’s a quiet peaceful town that’s great for hunting, snowmobiling, getting away from the city life.


Ranked Choice Voting in Cambridge, MA

Thanks to Maine’s adoption of ranked choice voting (RCV) in 2016, the congressional representative for Cambridge, Jared Golden, emerged victorious in 2018 after an extensive counting process.  Though it may have taken about two weeks for the results to be certified, the process was nonetheless straightforward.  Voters could rank their votes and Rep. Golden, who didn’t receive enough votes to win in the first round, picked up second- and third-choice rankings of independent candidates who were eliminated in the tallying process.  It was contentious, but tidy, and a good example of why RCV is sometimes called instant-runoff voting.

2019 BallotWe, the residents of Cambridge, MA, also use ranked choice voting in our municipal elections, and we’re gearing up to vote on Tuesday for City Council and School Committee.  There are six at-large School Committee seats, and 11 candidates, including three incumbents, are running.  The City Council is made up of nine at-large councillors, and there are 22 candidates, including eight incumbents.  I have a pile of flyers on my counter, as high as you’d expect from a total of 33 candidates.  We don’t vote directly for mayor, who will instead be chosen by the city councillors from among their ranks.  The mayor also chairs the School Committee.

A person could decide to vote for only one candidate in each race, but why limit one’s self?  We have the option of ranking each of the candidates, with a cap of 15 selections.

The big difference between what we’re doing and what happened (and will be the system from now on) in Maine, is that we’re voting our preferences for all nine city councillors (or six School Committee members) on the same ballot.  While I’ll carefully make my selections for numbers one through however many, the truth is that I can only be absolutely sure that my number one vote will count.

RCV video

A current city councillor who has decided not to run for re-election, Jan Devereaux, offers a cute video explanation of the system.  Click here to view itOr read this, instead.  And if you want to know what the actual count looked like in 2017, you’ll find the tally here.  As you’ll see, two councillors surpassed the vote quota of 2253 in the first round; the next didn’t clear until the 15th round; and the Council was finally complete in the 19th round, when all candidates who had received the least votes had been eliminated one-by-one and the last two candidates were selected without meeting the initial quota.  (The PDF was prepared by a local voting guru, who maintains a website filled with all sorts of city governance information.)

This year, a major focus of the candidates has been housing, with subsets of the full 22 forming slates of like-minded fellow aspirants.  The idea is that, regardless of my #1 vote, if enough people join me in voting for all the candidates in a slate, that slate’s views will be well-represented on the council.  There are slates supporting a particular housing plan that was considered this fall, and slates opposing it.  Other issues aren’t getting the attention they might in a different year.

Is Cambridge’s model of RCV a model for the nation, as this commentary from a few years back argues?  I can’t say.  It can be confusing for new residents, of which we have many, but it’s easy enough to get used to.  And there are campaigns to bring ranked choice voting to more elections.  A group is working to put a referendum on RCV on the Massachusetts ballot for 2020.

For now, I believe that Maine and Massachusetts include the only Cambridges that use RCV, but soon, towns and cities throughout Massachusetts and beyond may be offered the option to rank more than one candidate for an elected position.

Trunk or Treat

Trunk or TreatThe Cambridge (Maine) General Store and Restaurant, a community-builder for the town, will be hosting a “Trunk or Treat” event this Sunday afternoon.  A little research tells me that, though Trunk or Treat is a new concept for me, it’s a tried and true Halloween option for others.  Folks bring cars together and the kids do their trick-or-treating car-by-car, rather than house-by-house.  Basically tailgating — but with costumes and candy.  I can imagine that it’s a highly efficient candy gathering operation.  In true American fashion, it’s even a marketing opportunity for a particular subset of the Halloween market.

The event will be co-sponsored by the store and the Town of Cambridge, which (I hear) has hosted Trunk or Treating in the past.  Meanwhile, on Halloween in Cambridge, MA, I’ll be lighting up a carved pumpkin and hoping kids stop by during their old-style trick-or-treating.

Cambridge, ME update

I didn’t intend for there to be such a long gap between my last post and this one, but I’m back to writing now.

And today I have breaking news from Cambridge, Maine!  The East Outlet Brewing Company is holding its grand opening tomorrow, following a soft opening for a few hours today.

East Outlet Brewing opening

The opening will feature a full pizza menu and, according to their Facebook page, a selection of “peanut butter stout, a saison, juicy IPA, and key lime sour ale.”  And glassblowing seems to be an essential aspect of EOB’s offerings.

I’m excited about the addition of a place to eat and socialize in Cambridge!

A correction and a map

First, a correction.  I checked in with Mike Chait at Smuggler’s Notch and learned that the actual annual visitor count for the ski resort is 450,000.  I’ve made the correction in the post.

Second, I thought that folks who aren’t familiar with the northeastern states might like to see how the four Cambridges connect.  On this map, A is Cambridge, MA; B is Cambridge, VT; C is Cambridge, NY; and D is Cambridge, Maine.

Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine are the only three of the six New England states with a Cambridge, so I can check that group off my list.  And New York gives us the full set of northeastern Cambridges.  Maine is the farthest north of the four, but Vermont is closer to Canada.  And you can see how close both New York and Vermont are to the border between the two states.

Four Cambridges

The General Store, Cambridge, ME

General Store and DinerAs essentially the only private-sector business open to the public, the General Store occupies special territory in Cambridge, Maine.  Along with the post office, it’s the center of town, located right across from Cambridge Pond.

The store sells many of the basic products you’d expect from a general store, primarily staples, such as cereal or ketchup, that you would be happy to avoid driving 20 minutes for.  There’s a big case of cold drinks, including beer.  All of those are on one side of the space.

On the other is a diner that serves a mighty fine omelette and, I hear, delicious breakfast sandwiches.  General Store menuTwo young women staffed both the restaurant and the store, with one cooking in the back and the other taking orders and ringing up purchases in the front.

When I first arrived, the diner area was quiet, but the tables soon filled up.  It seemed that not only were some of the visitors regulars, but they were also consistent enough in their orders that little menu review was needed.  I enjoyed eavesdropping on all the interactions between the staff and the regular customers.

Sign in General StoreBetween my lunch and a trip back in for a cup of coffee, I had a chance to gather details from both Cheyenne, who runs the front of the shop, and Caitlin (pictured below at left), who was doing the cooking.  Cheyenne confirmed that not only does she know most of the customers, but she knows most of their orders, too.

Cheyenne is a Cambridge native, but she has come and gone several times.  CaitlinCaitlin moved to town about four months ago.  They both confirmed that they were satisfied to sacrifice the opportunity to live among a larger peer group for the quiet of the small town.

As for the General Store, a succession of owners have tried to make the store a success in recent years.  The current owner, who wasn’t in town when I visited, is from Connecticut but was familiar with Cambridge.  When the opportunity arose, I’m told, she bought the store.  Keeping it going in a town of only 500 is a challenge, but I’ll be hoping to grab a meal there when I’m in Cambridge next.

General Store sign outside

Deep roots in Cambridge, Maine

Mark BunkerDuring my visit to Cambridge, Maine, I wandered over to take a photo of Cambridge Pond.  There I picked up a conversation with Mark Bunker, a descendant of one of the first Cambridge families.  He said he has “deep deep roots” in the town.

Mark is a union construction worker and has worked on projects all over the northeast, including Cambridge, MA where he said he found “some beautiful homes, but nowhere I’d want to be.  Cambridge, Maine is much nicer.”  While we were talking, I was preventing him from completing his current project, a new garage.  We were on the site of an old garage he owned that was destroyed by fire, leading to a show of support from the community to help him rebuild.

Mark Bunker house1Mark lives in a special home of his own.  Just across the street from the post office and General Store, the house used to be the Island House Motel.  It’s hard now to see the setting as an island, but he said that brooks used to flow on either side of it.

Though I didn’t talk with all that many people in Cambridge, each conversation included far more sharing of information than I could possibly capture here.  I’m glad that Mark was willing to interrupt his work to chat.

How would you describe Cambridge?
Cambridge is a nice quiet town where everybody knows everybody.

The economy, Cambridge, ME

A thriving economy is a goal for any town or city, but is hard to achieve for a small town surrounded by other small towns.  Town selectmen Mike Watson and Ron Strouse described for me the challenges facing Cambridge, Maine.  Mike said, “The economy here is gone.  The big factories are out.”  He also said that at one time there were 35 dairy farms and two beef cattle farms.  Only one of each remain.

Most Cambridge residents commute to larger towns (including Bangor, an hour away), are engaged in businesses requiring regional travel, or work from home.  There are a couple of auto-maintenance garages, some woodworkers, and, Mike said, “a lot of retired people.”  He pointed out that Maine has one of the largest senior citizen populations among U.S. states.  “It’s old and getting older.”  But he said the town is “always looking” for development opportunities.

Future development may be linked to the arrival of broadband internet, expected in fall of 2019 with the help of a grant from the State of Maine.  The town had appointed a committee to study the issue and the options, and an announcement of the timeline appeared on the town website after my visit.  Lack of access to high-speed internet is an obstacle to development throughout rural Maine, and Mike looks forward to its arrival.  “I like this broadband coming in.  If you have good internet, you’re the center of the world, and you can do whatever you want to do.”  He continued, “The internet is going to make it possible to buy or sell anywhere in the world.”  People will be able to “live the country life” while continuing their work life.  “It’ll be a plus for us.”

Related to Cambridge’s short list of enterprises and limited internet is the town’s scarce presence online.  Aside from the town’s own website, there are few web pages to be found about Cambridge.

East Outlet BrewingAnother potential boost to the economy due this summer is a brewery.  East Outlet Brewing can be found on the road leading into town.  No one was around when I went by, but I’ll try to follow their story.

It’s possible to imagine a future, not too far out, when young tech workers who can be situated anywhere will be drawn to Cambridge, with the brewery as the center of evening life.  Mike has confidence that the town will carry on.  “People like the seclusion that a small town affords them.”

The Town Government, Cambridge, ME

The one appointment I had set before I started my drive to Cambridge, Maine was with the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, Michael (Mike) Watson.  We had spoken very briefly by phone, and even that one-minute conversation allowed him to share that there is little to visit in the town.  Not that this information discouraged me.

Town OfficeI entered the Town Office and met Donna, the Town Clerk, who had answered the phone when I called.  Mike invited Second Selectman, Ronald (Ron) Strouse, to join us.  Donna was there for the start of the conversation, too.

First, we established the long lineage of Mike’s and Donna’s families in Cambridge.  Mike said he is the sixth generation to live there.  Donna said her great-great-grandparents were among those who founded the town in the 1800s.

(A side-note that Maine was part of Massachusetts from the 1650s to 1820, when it was finally established as a separate state.  As for Cambridge, there’s a tale that a group of folks gathered to discuss a name for the new town, which would break away from Ripley.  A young girl had been reading a book about England, and she suggested Cambridge as the name.  “And that’s how it come about,” Mike said.)

On the other side, in terms of Cambridge longevity, was Ron, who, like me, is from Long Island, NY.  He was looking for a lifestyle change — tired of the traffic (especially given that his work required a lot of driving) and he also felt that New York State made it difficult for him to do things he wanted to, such as hunting.  He found the environment he was looking for in Cambridge, where he already owned a camp (roughly translatable to vacation home).  Though he has been in Cambridge since 1993, he said that, having moved there as an adult, “I’ll never be a Mainer.  I’ll always be a flatlander.”

Cambridge ME town government
From left: Cambridge Tax Collector Kathryn Burdin; Second Selectman Ronald Strouse; Town Clerk Donna Sawyer; Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Michael R. Watson.

We talked a little about the remote location of Cambridge.  I had observed that the drive into town — quite relaxing on a sunny day — must be a challenge at night or after a snowfall.  Ron and Mike acknowledged that’s true, but pointed to destinations within half an hour that make it worth the drive.  Both Skowhegan and Newport have Walmart stores and Dexter has a Dunkin’ Donuts.  Some of those towns have a larger population base; for example, neighboring St. Albans has nearly 2,000 people, about the same as Cambridge, NY.

Cambridge receives some of its services from outside.  There’s no local police force, but the Somerset County Sheriff and the State Police supply law-enforcement support.  For schooling, children attend a regional school in Guilford (Piscataquis Community Elementary School and High School) as part of Maine School Administrative District #4.   The town has its own volunteer fire department.

Despite the limited official resources in Cambridge, Mike and Ron made clear that there’s an abundance of support from the townsfolk for each other.  Ron said, “People help each other.  If someone has a problem, everybody gets together to help them.”  Mike added, People here like to talk.  Sometimes it’s gossip, but sometimes it’s helpful.”  He was not impressed by a trip to New York City, where he observed that “people don’t talk to each other.”

Mike describes Cambridge as beyond rural.  “It’s country,” with about 100 households.  “In country, there are no secrets.”  And Ron pointed out that new housing construction needs to be placed on plots of at least four acres.

In our wide-ranging conversation, I asked Mike and Ron if the opioid crisis has touched Cambridge.  Ron confirmed that it’s a “serious issue” and Mike noted the town’s particular challenge that it doesn’t have the police or medical resources to deal with an overdose.  They have also been thinking about Maine’s legalization of recreational marijuana, which took effect in June.  While about 15 towns or cities quickly “opted in” to allow the sale of marijuana, Cambridge has already enacted an ordinance to opt out, even though there would be financial benefit through the sales tax to allowing a dispensary.  Ron said they would “let the other towns deal with it.”

I asked Ron and Mike what’s going well in Cambridge now.  Mike said that they’re holding property taxes low, getting some roads fixed, and keeping the fire department.  Ron mentioned that they’re bringing high-speed internet into town.  Lack of connectivity is a problem, just as it was in Cambridge, NY.  They’re also trying to maintain the population of the town, hoping people will move in and buy the properties that are available.  And then they hope the new residents will be involved citizens.  Ron said, “We need people to step up to the plate.”

Mike and Ron were extremely generous with their time, and I’ll be back soon with notes from the rest of our conversation.

Last: while Cambridge, MA residents call ourselves “Cantabridgians,” and Cambridge, NY refers to “villagers,” those in Cambridge, ME simply go by “Mainers.”

How would you describe Cambridge?
Ron: A very small private community that looks out for each other.  Quality of life is superior here, I think, and everybody gets along and, like I said, they look after each other.  Just a good good town to live in.

Mike: I think it’s a nice little community.  Been here a long time and it’s gonna be here for a long time afterwards.

The postmaster, Cambridge, ME

Post officeAs I’ve mentioned, the only two significant entities in Cambridge, ME are the General Store and the U.S. Post Office.  I didn’t realize until the night before my trip that they’re next door to each other.  Once I was in town, I learned that they’re in the same building, and the USPS rents the space from the owners of the General Store.  That sure made things easy for me.

As I studied up on Cambridge, I assumed that the post office would have a special place in town, which turns out to be true, for reasons beyond what I had imagined.  The postmaster, Phil Cleaves, has been in the position since April, but he has a long history in the area, having grown up in nearby Dexter.  He was able to give me some perspective on the day-to-day of postal business, as well as the importance of a rural post office.

I should note that it hasn’t been straightforward for Cambridge to retain its post office.   During a past wave of post office closures, the town needed to petition to retain it, calling on the congressional delegation to lend support.  In the end, the post office survived, but hours were cut to four per day, with a morning and afternoon shift on weekdays, and four hours on Saturday morning.  Besides the postmaster, there’s a rural delivery route driver, Julie, who covers Cambridge and most of neighboring Harmony.  She popped in toward the end of my visit.

As for the post office space, there’s a wall with a few dozen post boxes and a counter for filling out forms, alongside a bulletin board for community notices.  Phil said they use an old-school metering machine.  Everything that’s needed is there, probably much the same as in decades past.

Post office display
Community business cards on the post office wall.

Here’s what I expected to find:  that people would go to the post office more often than city folks because a visit is an opportunity to connect with friends from the town, or maybe only because there are no street-side mail collection boxes to toss an envelope in.  Maybe they’d stay and chat a little longer.  Both of those things seem to be true.  While I was in the office, a  customer came by for a money order.  Phil asked her how she’s doing and she responded, “I can’t complain.  I passed my physical.”  A few more minutes of conversation and a request for a bit of tape to hold her envelope shut, and she headed out.

Another customer came by for a book of stamps.  She said she and her husband had driven over to the General Store for lunch, a regular destination for them.   Phil said that there’s a lot of traffic back and forth between the store and the post office.  (Including me — I went from one to the other and back again.)

The first customer’s money order purchase reflects an aspect of post office activity that I hadn’t expected.  A lot of Cambridge residents rely on the post office when it’s time to pay bills.  Many of those don’t have bank accounts, or for others it may be that the bank is far away and the post office is nearby.  So money orders are a significant generator of post office business.  In addition, a number of Cambridge folks are earning their living with an online business — selling things on EBay, for example.  They frequently need to mail or receive packages, which they do at the post office.

Phil told me that he wished the post office could be open all day, that it’s a “vital service” for a lot of Cambridge residents.  He used to be a rural carrier, giving him the perspective from both sides of the office door.  “I like to help people,” he said.

Phil has noted changes in Cambridge, thinking back to when there were more businesses and people.  With those changes has come a different attitude, which he expressed as “There’s more me and not we.”  Nonetheless, he gets along well with his customers and said his approach is to “have a good attitude and hope I get that back.”  After our conversation, I came to think that what he misses are the connections that a vibrant town center can provide.  Now he and the post office offer one of the key sites for connecting the people of Cambridge, Maine.

How would you describe Cambridge?
People are friendly, very friendly, even if we disagree on some things.  Working with the public, you already know how that person feels, so you avoid that conversation and move on to what you’re dealing with.  So, in general, people of Cambridge are great.  I haven’t had problems with…maybe one person.  Maybe two – there was one when I was dating back in high school, so besides her, it’s all been good.  And I’m sure Cambridge, Mass. is the same way.