For two decades, Lester Spear put 60,000 miles per year traveling around the country in the souvenir and gift business. He wanted to spend more time in Boothbay so he concentrated on business ventures closer to home. In 2019, he purchased the former Pinkham’s Seafood building at 798 Wiscasset Road to operate a new snack food business. Later that year, Spear received a special amusement permit allowing five mobile vendors operating as Food Trucks A-Go from mid-November to January. This year, Spear reports the Trucks A-Go operation drew three times the business from last year.
In 2021, the Boothbay Ice Palace was introduced as another Route 27 attraction between Feb 15-28. The ice palace along with five mobile food trucks have drawn large crowds this winter. In fact, business may be too good for the location. At times, customers are parking along both sides of Route 27 when patronizing the two businesses.
Spear described both the ice palace and food trucks as experiments in bringing more people to the Boothbay region. Both experiments exceeded his expectations, especially the ice palace. “This isn’t anything new. I’m bringing successful events I’ve seen throughout the country to Boothbay. I knew both would be successful, but it has turned far more successful than I imagined,” he said.
The Boothbay Ice Palace sold 5,500 tickets this season. Spear expected 1,000 per day and staggered ticket sales expecting patrons to spend 45 minutes at the site. Instead, patrons regularly extended their stays to around 90 minutes which has caused parking along both sides of Route 27. During Gardens Aglow, the sheriff’s department posted no parking signs along a portion of Route 27.
Spear started his businesses in response to community concerns about the lack of a year-round vibrant local economy. Traveling around the country, he reports seeing his share of thriving communities and others struggling economically. He points to North Conway, New Hampshire as a prime example. He described North Conway as a former “American Native trail” which is now a prosperous four-season community. “I see a huge opportunity for this town to become a vibrant year round community with more jobs and larger school enrollments. The community is making strides with the addition of Botanical Gardens and golf course in bringing us into the 21st Century. If we don’t grow, we will fall behind, and fade away,” he said.
But Spear’s Route 27 business is enduring some growing pains. On Feb. 24, Chairman Steve Lewis told selectmen his “phone blew up” with complaints about 20 cars parked on both sides of Route 27 last Saturday night. Selectmen Mike Tomacelli and Dale Harmon also reported they received numerous complaints. Selectman Desiree Scorcia, who is married to Spear, didn’t receive any complaints. “Since this is the first I’ve heard of this, I think we should table this,” she said.
But selectmen, led by Lewis, continued discussing a potential Route 27 parking ban. Lewis indicated a parking ban is one of the few powers selectmen can declare without voter approval. “It’s a dangerous situation, and I’d hate to arrive there wearing my other hat (Lewis is Boothbay Region Ambulance Service paramedic),” he said.
Instead of a parking ban, Spear challenged selectmen to find a solution. Spear reported once parking started becoming an issue he instituted online ordering, food delivery and sought out a shuttle service to alleviate the problem. “I’m concerned, too,” he said. “But what about lowering the speed limit or a traffic light? I’m trying to work with you on this,” he told selectmen during the Feb. 24 meeting.
Last year, he urged municipal leaders to examine the need for more parking along Route 27 during the new municipal ordinance public hearings. Voters overwhelming approved the new ordinances which allow for limited commercial operation along Route 27. Spear believes the location is prime for economic development with changes. “I told them (selectmen, planning board) last year I would have a problem with parking, but they told me this wasn’t the time to discuss it,” he said.
On Feb. 25, Spear was disappointed selectmen didn’t seek a solution to the parking problem. He believes his business’ success is a path toward Boothbay growing and prospering. “I look at the possibilities for Boothbay: a walking path around the pond, more lighting and lower speeds and new businesses in this community, especially along Route 27,” he said.
During the conversation, Lewis thought Spear’s new business turned out being a good idea, but he didn’t think Route 27 was the right location. Tomacelli agreed, and told Spear he was responsible for the situation. “As a business owner, it’s your responsibility for your customers’ safety. There is not enough room to park on 27. There is not even a breakdown lane. You have outgrown that particular piece of property,” Tomacelli said.
On Feb. 25, Spear proposed the two sides should work together in finding a solution. “I don’t have all the answers. I want to work with them, but all I heard was ‘we can’t.’ There are things which would help the situation like slowing down speeds and signage,” Spear said. “It’s their job to promote business within the community, and keep us safe. Saying ‘I can’t’ doesn’t solve the problem, so they aren’t actually doing their jobs,” he said.
Lewis characterized the current situation as a safety issue not an economic one. “You just can’t do what he wants to do at that location,” he said. “With only 17 parking spots, what are you going to do? You can’t park out on our main road, and that’s my concern. Parking on Route 27 in a 45 mph zone in the dark is dangerous, period,” Lewis said.
Spear wants to expand his operation next winter which would likely require a new location. “I will possibly move in-town next year. I can’t grow my business here,” he said.
The Boothbay Ice Palace may not last until Feb. 28 as warmer weather has taken a toll. The ice palace is starting to deteriorate which has Spear considering closing early. If selectmen enact a parking ban, they first need to post it publicly before scheduling a vote.