Young Connecticut couple happy to make Boothbay their home

Mike and Harley Bartles sailing into the future with new business
Posted:  Sunday, November 18, 2018 - 7:00am

A young married couple from Connecticut is happy to call Boothbay home. Mike, 31, and Harley Bartles, 28, were married in 2015, and the young couple enjoys living in a small, rural coastal community so much they bought a home. The couple became further entrenched in Boothbay last month by starting their own sailmaking business. Mike has worked as a sailmaker for the past 10 years. And in October, he opened a shop at 73 Corey Lane.

“We love living here,” Harley said. “Even though we are from away, people are very friendly and interested in why we moved here. We like living in a small town, and it’s so nice living close to the ocean.”

So how does a young Connecticut couple who met seven years ago working at one of the largest maritime museums in the U.S. end up in Boothbay, Maine? Well, the answer is simple. It’s a love story. Mike and Harley met while working at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. Shortly after meeting, they began dating. And not too long after dating, Harley found a job in Maine. So why does a young University of Connecticut graduate with a boyfriend specifically search for a job in Maine? Well, this too is a love story.  It turns out Harley loves the state of Maine.

Her love for Maine began as a child spending summers at her grandfather’s camp in Greenville on Moosehead Lake. In 2012, she applied for a job in the University of Maine at Orono’s financial aid department.

“I did a Skype interview, and two weeks later they wanted me to start,” Harley said. So it wasn’t long after that Mike began his journey to Vacationland. In March 2013, he began working for noted East Boothbay sailmaker Nat Wilson. “I really wanted to be closer to Harley so I found a job working for Nat,” he said.

The couple continued dating, and it now became Harley’s turn to move closer to Mike. In June 2016, the couple got married, and she started working at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

The next chapter in their love story began this summer when they drove past a Corey Lane building with a rental sign. Mike believed he found the right place to begin his own sailmaking business. After checking out the building and haggling about the rental price with the owner, all the Bartleses needed from Boothbay was planning board approval for what they and owner Tom Witt of Witt Family Trust thought was a “routine” change of use request.

But the board didn’t treat the request as routine. The board asked several questions about potential uses before approving the use change. And in the approval, the board cautioned that sailmaking was a manufacturing enterprise, and not allowed in the residential zone.  So it appeared the “perfect” place for Mike’s new business wasn’t perfect. Harley cried after the board’s decision.  And Mike told board members the ruling would result in him leaving town.

But the next day, the couple received some good news. Code Enforcement Officer Jason Lorrain researched current and past building uses. He discovered that both Bigelow Laboratory and Tom Witt performed maritime manufacturing activities at the location. So he categorized the building as an “existing non-conforming use” meaning sailmaking was allowed.

On Nov. 15, Mike was preparing his sail loft for production. In recent weeks, he began ordering equipment and supplies and cultivating clients.  “This is an exciting time. I’m busy getting things set up and tracking down specialty machines,” he said. “I’ve found it being less stressful than I anticipated, but I’m enjoying it, especially conversations with clients about the finer points of sailing.”

The Bartleses describe Boothbay as an attractive location for young families. But as the region strives to attract more young couples, like the Bartleses, they recommend community planners focus on affordable housing. “It was cheaper for us to buy than continue renting. So affordable housing is still a sticking point,” Harley said.

Mike agreed, and believed affordable housing was a problem for singles, too. When he arrived in Boothbay five years ago, it took time to find an affordable rental. “I struggled when I first moved here waiting for an apartment to open up. If property values are too high, then families won’t be able to afford moving here,” he said.

Mike isn’t the only Bartles with a new job. Harley recently began working for Maine Maritime Museum in Bath. And they both are very happy with their decision to make their future in the Boothbay region.