One of the great things about Stonington, Maine is that it’s far off the beaten path. So far, in fact, that it’s totally franchise-free. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks here. In fact, you’d have to drive dozens of miles into the mainland before you hit your first franchise fast food restaurant or coffee shop.
Located at the tip of Deer Isle, out in the middle of Penobscot Bay, Stonington is just too small and too remote for the big franchise chains. That means if you’ve got to start your day with some kind of Starbucks brand caramel-topped pumpkin spice latte grande, this just isn’t the place for you. (It also means that you won’t find a discarded Starbucks coffee cup or a McDonald’s wrapper around town, either.)
That doesn’t mean that Stonington lacks for coffee or the other amenities of modern life. Instead, locally owned businesses have filled the niche that would otherwise be filled by the big chains. There’s a great coffee shop called 44 North where you can get your java fix, and there are really good restaurants, ranging from the classic home-cooked offerings offered at the Harbor Cafe (pictured above, where the haddock chowder is addictive and you have to save room for dessert) and Stonecutters Kitchen and the Fin and Fern to the more high-end fare found at Acadia House Provisions and Aragosta. The other businesses in town are locally owned, too — and some of them are employee-owned co-ops.
The local ownership adds a certain indefinable quality to the buying experience. There are signs around the island noting that buying from local businesses means local jobs, and that’s clearly the case. It actually makes you want to shop at the local options and support the local economy, in a way that just doesn’t apply to stopping at a national chain operation.
It’s all a pretty old school approach. There’s nothing wrong with the big companies and their franchises, of course, but it’s nice to be reminded of what America was like before large-scale national brands took hold and unique local businesses lined the sidewalks along Main Street.