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40 Union Street: legacy, community and little red wagons

February 16, 2018

It’s not hard to see why Union Street Bakery has quickly won a place in the hearts of locals since its opening nearly three years ago. In this short period of time, Brunswick residents have walked again and again up those distinctive green steps, sometimes hungry for gooey chocolate chip cookies, other times for fresh brioche cinnamon buns, but most often, for lively chats with owner Sandy Holland.

Bowdoin students have also frequented the bakery, eager for a treat and perhaps hoping to find a taste of the Brunswick charm that is sometimes forgotten, the community which exists outside of the neat borders of Bowdoin’s campus. Whatever the reason, students and locals alike have returned to Union Street with stunning consistency.

The bakery feels like home. It is bright and cheerfully decorated, featuring sunny yellow walls and a collection of multi-patterned armchairs. The kitchen is located at the far end of the bakery’s sole room, its long, flour-spotted tables in plain sight just beyond the display case.

In so many ways, the bakery feels precisely like the cozy cafe of our dreams, the one where regulars waltz through the front door and unceremoniously order “the usual” and where ladies in groups of three linger for hours over their mugs of coffee.

But whether an archetype of the small town bakery or just reminiscent of the kitchens of our grandmothers, it is clear that the bakery is more than a pleasant spot to stop for coffee—it is a piece of the Brunswick community. And this is no coincidence. Beyond its air of comfort, the storefront boasts another key attribute: it has a rich history, one that is reflected in both the space and the atmosphere of the place.

As Holland explained, community has always been at the very core of her vision for Union Street.

“People are hungry for community…sometimes when I stop and I look out and I see people in the bakery—you know they know each other, they’re hugging, stuff like that—I feel really good about that,” said Holland.

Holland, who is originally from Virginia, moved to Maine with her family at the age of 15. In 1992, around the time of her first son’s birth, she moved to Brunswick in search of good schools and a kind community in which to raise her children.

But Union Street Bakery’s connection to the Brunswick community runs far deeper than Holland’s present day engagement. The storefront is a piece of Brunswick history in its own right.

Before it housed Union Street Bakery, back when Bowdoin was a small all-male college and Brunswick was a predominantly French-Canadian mill town, 40 Union Street was a local grocery called Teteault’s Market.

Today the building is owned by Paul Tetreault, an 83 year old Brunswick resident and has been in the Tetreault family since 1954 when it was purchased by his father. After nearly 60 years of business, the market closed, but the storefront remained in the family and was rented out to a number of local businesses, most recently, to Holland.

Holland recounted a conversation with Tetreault in which he told her about the market’s history. Tetreault’s Market, much like Union Street Bakery, was small but integral to the community that it served.

In 1955, after the mill closed, the market fell on particularly difficult times, but nonetheless, armed with loyal customers and a real commitment to the community, Tetreault’s persevered.

The family delivered goods to customers in a child’s red wagon and allowed people to set up charges at the market, requiring them to pay their totals once a week if they were able. Holland fondly recollected this very charge system, which Tetreault still used in the early ’90’s when she frequented the market. She has kept this tradition in mind when running her own business.

“My staff and I know everybody’s name who walks in here. If somebody comes in and they forgot their wallet or something, which happens, we don’t care. We say take it, you can come back when you can,” said Holland.

While the days of door-to-door wagon delivery may sound like a quaint vestige from a distant past, the values of community and personal relationships are still very much at the core of Union Street Bakery’s mission. And perhaps the days of on-foot delivery are not as far behind us as one might think.

This coming March, the town of Brunswick has plans for major road work on Union Street. The construction, which consists of replacing the sewer line and repaving the road, will effectively tear up the street, making it difficult for customers to reach the bakery, something Holland fears may lead to closure.

With plans for the road work already in place, the stories of the bakery and the market before it are all the more intertwined. In the face of hard times, each business must fall back on the base that gives it its character—the Brunswick community.

For Holland, the bakery is more than just a day job. It is another piece in the long history of 40 Union Street—one she is determined to preserve.

“If we close, I can go get a job, I can sleep every morning, I mean my life will be easier,” said Holland. “But it won’t hold a candle to being part of this community.”

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