Up until about the 1980s, Belfast, Maine was the world’s chicken-processing capital. Then, like car-makers high-tailing it out of Detroit, the chicken companies left Belfast for other parts of the world, taking with them jobs and the town’s economic engine. Now reinvented as a lobster and ship-repair hub, Belfast is a model for how other towns can survive after a similar downfall.
The friendly woman at the Belfast Chamber of Commerce boasts that her town has only two tourist-centric stores that close down for the winter. Belfast thrives whether or not tourists visit and they’re proud that they’re not dependent on outsiders to keep them going.
The yacht-fixing trade is booming. A walking tour of the harbour takes you right through the biggest ship-repair facility on the US east coast.
Many visitors to Belfast have simply decided to stay, like this guy above who built his home/boat out of shipping containers. And the downtown bookseller who was a university professor until he visited on vacation and decided to stay. It’s a charming town. And then there’s the lobster.
Young’s Lobster Pound is renowned in the area for its unfussy atmosphere and fresh seafood. While it’s being cooked in the front, fishermen are bringing more into the back. It’s about as close to catching it yourself as you can get. Your order is placed into a small net and boiled in a long trough. In 20 minutes, you’re chowing down.
Because Derek was deprived of it on a previous trip (long story!) we ordered the $59 dinner for two: two lobsters, two cobs of corn, four jumbo shrimp and dozens of oysters and mussels. It’s a crazy amount of food and the kid behind the counter laughed knowingly as he prepared it for us. Some people bring tablecloths for the bare picnic tables beside the wharf. They come armed with a bottle of wine and their own plates and utensils. We took the “when in Rome…” approach and found the lobster pics, huge styrofoam plates and wet naps met our needs. They even supply you with little containers of melted butter and seafood sauce. I ate until I felt like I was growing fins.
We spent the next morning exploring downtown and admiring the benches at each intersection. Artists have created everything you can imagine, from this guitar bench to a giant shoe seat to gothic to wooden to … you name it… giving the small town a ton of character. They may not cater to tourists, but they also don’t ignore them. We felt welcome at every turn.
We stayed at the Fireside Inn, a lovely place where every room has a walkout to the ocean. Their restaurant was really good, too.
Breakfast on the deck, walks along the water, even silly musings about answering a help-wanted sign in a diner – all made for a relaxing getaway. We did the drive home over two days, with a stop in Cornwall for the night on Thursday. For some unknown reason, the Best Western Plus upgraded us to a junior suite at the regular room price and it was gorgeous and huge. We came back with few souvenirs – a vintage aluminum seagull that now resides on our deck and some Maine blueberry jam – but the best thing I got there was an idea for a new hobby/product for Lisa’s Pieces and it started with a couple of purchases in Cornwall. Can’t wait to show you…soon!