The Bucksport Bay Area Chamber of Commerce has entered into contract with the Maine State Grange to purchase the former Verona Grange at 54 Main St., right next door to the chamber's previous location.

The chamber is currently seeking public support to raise money to purchase the building and make needed improvements.

Executive Director Leslie Wombacher said, in total, $110,000 is needed, which includes $90,000 for the building and $20,000 for improvements, including an enlarged information center and a handicapped-accessible restroom on the main floor.

The well-kept 1940s Grange building consists of a street-level, large, open room with a stage on one side. Downstairs there is a full walk-out basement, facing the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, with a kitchen and two restrooms.

Administrative Assistant Alecia Smith said the building is already used as a community facility, but with a few improvements, it would really open it up for use as an intimate performance space.

"We could fit 40 chairs for performances and chamber offices and have a 24-hour information center," Smith said. That way, if the chamber were closed, visitors could still get information.

The chamber has been leasing the Grange building since May 2018, when its previous building, at 52 Main St., developed an air quality issue.

"I could not breathe in the building," Wombacher said.

Smith said they both suffered health issues in the town-owned building.

"It was a sweet deal for us, though," Wombacher said. The chamber paid for utilities and the chamber leased the building for a dollar.

The town chose to sell the building instead of fixing it, she said. At the time, "We were in no position to bid on the building."

The chamber eventually moved out of 52 Main St. and into Wombacher's living room.

Board President Larry Wahl initially approached the Verona Grange about the possibility of a lease agreement. Wombacher said it was an obvious choice, where the Grange members only used the building for meetings once a month.

The Grange agreed and offered them a year's lease.

As has been the case with many Granges across the state facing declining memberships, the group could not sustain enough members to keep the Grange going, so the chapter disbanded, Wombacher said.

"They really do love this place," she said, "and I felt bad. You have to have young people involved."

Dealing with the Maine State Grange has been "truly lovely," Wombacher said. "They love the idea the building will remain a public space." 

About 10 years ago, the town offered a facade grant where buildings on Main Street could get matching funds. At that time, the Grange installed a new roof and siding.

The chamber's lease is up this month and Wombacher said the organization is currently in negotiations to extend it.

"To make the giving easier," Wombacher said, the chamber is getting creative with its fundraising efforts. Members have offered football tickets and a CPR-first aid course among raffle items people can bid on.

In the near future they hope to rent out the building for special events at a rate of $200 for chamber members or $250 for non-members.

Wahl said that since late January the chamber has been in fundraising mode, but still has a long way to go. "One way or another, we will stay in the building," he said.

The Bucksport Bay Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors the popular Bucksport Bay Festival every year. The chamber also is the driving force behind The Bucksport Bay Farmers' Market, River Duck Dash, Pixie Harbor Hoopla, Ghostport and Tozier's Turkey Trail.

For pledges and contributions, contact Leslie at 469-6818, email leslie@bucksportbaychamber.com, or just stop in.