In describing Lincolnville Center, locals often point to things that used to be, but now are gone: the empty lot where the post office used to be, where Dean & Eugley’s auto repair shop used to be, where the “Blue House” apartments used to be, where the telephone company used to be, where the bookstore or the farm stand was, where the schoolkids used to play basketball.

In short, the Center is where Lincolnville used to be.

Or at least half of it.

The strip of Route 173 that passes by Norton Pond and intersects routes 235 to Hope and 52 to Belfast was once the country mouse counterpart to the tonier “Beach,” the town’s other center of commerce. Up until at least the 1950s, the Center had many of the qualities one associates with a “village.” There had been small businesses like blacksmiths and cobblers, R.S. Knight’s general store, a post office, fire station and school.

Today, the stretch of road still bears the alternate name Main Street, but so vague and few are the landmarks that a visitor could easily pass through without experiencing any sense of having arrived somewhere, much less departed.

Some, like the fire department, post office and school have moved off the main route. Others are still there, but have been neglected for long enough that they no longer catch the eye.

Which is to say, it’s not at first obvious that things are starting to happen in Lincolnville Center.

The most notable changes — the ones that everyone is talking about — surround the sale last year and planned reopening of the Center General Store, which closed about two years ago.

“There was a real loss when it closed for the winter,” said Town Administrator David Kinney. “But when it closed year-round, people sensed there was a decline going on.”

The decline of the village up to that point had followed a trend that’s easy to see in hindsight. As people became more mobile, as commuting became the norm, and as larger retail stores sprung up in Rockland and Belfast, the Center literally lost its focus.

A 2009 report by the group Friends of Midcoast Maine cataloged a long list of services and activities that residents suggested for a revived Lincolnville Center. But in practical terms, having a general store — a business Kinney described as being analogous to an anchor store in a mall — has been at the top of many lists.

“Everybody talks about community and wanting to have all these shops, but that’s not going to happen,” said Diane O’Brien, who is president of the historical society and author of an exhaustive history of the town that spans from 1900 to 1950. “… But if there was a place to buy food, to eat and get coffee…”

O’Brien was quick to acknowledge Drake Corner Market, or “Drake’s,” as it known, but said it’s not exactly the same. The modern convenience store and gas station at Main Street and Beach Road does a brisk business with residents and visitors alike. A row of cafeteria-style tables at the front of the store is as likely to be occupied by school-age children as elderly locals, often at the same time.

The elements of community are there at Drake’s — people lingering and talking over morning coffee, or lunch — but the business is separated from the rest of the village by a stretch of wetlands at the east end of Norton Pond. For those who would like to see a revival in the Center, there’s a sense of remorse about the convenience store, as in: if only it were a little closer.

A spinoff of the Center General Store revival currently under way has been a bi-weekly farmers market, held outside the store and in the former antique business across the street. Both properties are owned by Briar and Jonathan Fishman.

Jonathan is known for being the drummer in the band Phish, but in town, residents are as likely to talk about Briar, who brought the farmers market to the north end of the village. Both are regarded as neighbors, albeit ones whose privacy needs a little more care. As such, residents talk about “the new owners” or “the folks who bought the store,” or refer to them by their first names.

In short, the Fishmans’ investment in the properties, particularly the General Store, seems to have been a catalyst for talk of revitalizing the Center, but not because of who they are.

“I’d be excited if [anyone] bought the store and wanted to open it,” said Kinney, noting that the idea that reopening the store would bring some life back to the center dates to long before the current owners.

“We’d be devastated if the other store closed,” he said, referring to Drake’s. “They’re all parts of the community and we want people to have opportunities to have jobs and start businesses and thrive here.”

O’Brien likened what the Fishmans have been doing to what Andrew Stewart did in Hope with that town’s general store, which has become a locus for the community.

“One person can make a big difference in a little place,” she said. “If they have a lot of energy and ideas, it’s cool. It doesn’t make a difference [who they are].”

General stores are not the only thing happening in Lincolnville Center. The town recently sold the old fire station to the Lincolnville Boat Club along with the old Center School building. The boat club, in turn, has offered the former one-room schoolhouse to the historical society if they can move it off the property.

O’Brien said the hope is to move it across the street to the former Dean & Eugley lot.

Voters at an upcoming meeting will decide whether to lease the lot to the historical society. The group hopes to turn the building into a library, expanding on the several shelves of books currently housed at a building known for the man, Virgil “Grandpa” Hall, who once ran an antiques business there. That building is also owned by the Fishmans and is the recent cold-weather location of the farmers’ market.

In conversations about the Center, Dean & Eugley’s comes up a surprising amount given that it no longer exists. But like convenience stores around the county, where locals stand in the aisles to shoot the breeze, the garage was, in its time, a hub of social activity. Three generations of Eugley’s were fire chiefs and with the proximity of the fire department right across the street with the old school, the cluster arguably punctuated the southern end of the Center.

Despite the many things that have disappeared over the years, the Friends of Midcoast Maine study found that many of the bare-bones elements of a village remain intact in Lincolnville Center.

There are numerous historic homes, and the general store is still there. Landmarks like the United Christian Church, Petunia Pump — a hand-operated water pump at the intersection of Main Street and Route 235 — and the “Honor Roll” monument to war veterans give a spiritual grounding to the place.

“It’s got a lot of things going for it, but not much vitality,” said O’Brien. “And I think that’s what you’re feeling now with all this stuff going on.”

The church has recently undertaken a fundraiser to restore the town’s old Community Building. The function hall was built in the 1960s on land deeded by the church for student recreation — the school didn’t have a gym then — but with the construction of the new Lincolnville Central School, it has reverted back to church ownership.

According to the Rev. Susan Stonestreet the church has raised $5,000 toward a $15,000 goal for a first phase of renovations. A second phase would add a kitchen and handicap-accessible bathroom, and a third phase includes plans for a stage and partitions.

Currently, the building is used for the annual Strawberry Festival, but not much else.

“There’s so many options but now it’s just a big, open, cold space,” Stonestreet said. “… It could be much friendlier.”

At the municipal level, officials have been talking about allowing for developments of back lots and a reduction in the one-acre minimum lot size in the Center. The requirement is per-use, meaning any business larger than a home occupation would need its own lot, and some argued that smaller businesses could get by with much less.

At a recent meeting between selectmen and the town’s Land Use Committee, committee member Scott Crockett, who grew up in Lincolnville, described his father’s bicycle repair business as an example of an enterprise that could have grown to include some employees, but was not ever going to need its own 40,000-square-foot lot.

Others seemed to agree that something should happen, though what regulations to change was the subject of debate. After discussions of a number of potential businesses, clusters of antique shops or other ways to make the Center a destination, the idea was raised of generally easing regulations and seeing what happens. Walmart probably wouldn’t be looking to come to town, so why not?

Board of Selectmen Vice Chairman Rosey Gerry, who had been quiet for most of the meeting suddenly got a big grin on his face. Lifting his arms triumphantly in the air, he declared, “We’re open for business!”

“To a large degree, the Center is a blank canvas,” said Crockett, speaking after the meeting. “We have the opportunity to put our heads together and make something special. But we need everyone to be on the same page.”

He paused for a moment, then leaned in and lowered his voice to a whisper.

“That sounded good didn’t it?” he said.

According to town officials any vote on changing the zoning ordinances wouldn’t happen before June.

In the meantime, the Center appears to be quietly preparing for spring.