The first time I heard the concept “sense of place” was at convocation my freshman year. Former President Mills said in his speech, “Here, we recognize that place matters. Maine is an essential part of Bowdoin, and Bowdoin is a part of Maine.” This resonated with me—the relationship between the college and its surrounding area. Throughout my first year, I took advantage of Outing Club trips and nighttime excursions to Portland, but I still felt like I had yet to burst the infamous “Bowdoin Bubble.” In this column, I attempt to remedy this. Every other week, I’ll explore different places outside the immediate Bowdoin community and talk to those who truly understand what it means to be connected to this place: Mainers.

Fresh off a bike ride across the bridge to Topsham, I walk into Michaud’s Market, and already this place feels so far from the student-heavy crowd on Brunswick’s Maine Street. I am immediately greeted by a posse of four grizzled, smiling men sitting in a straight row behind the bar.  It’s perpendicular to the counter where Jim Michaud and his father work, and the bar faces the entrance directly. This is the perfect spot to greet passers-by and chitchat.

“Are you my panel?” I joke, remembering Jim saying something about inviting more people over during our scheduled interview. They have no idea what I’m talking about, and I realize that this crowd is normal, part of a long-standing routine.

Jim enters and everyone perks up.  When he warmly greets me, the rest of the crowd follows suit and welcomes me.  I ask his friends why they like spending their evenings here with Jim.
“’Cause he’s a wise-ass,” his second-cousin, Jim Thibeault, says with a sideways grin. “You walk in, and everyone’s in a good mood,” he adds.

We talk for a while. The group shares everything from their memories riding around town on bikes as kids to recent moose sightings. Brags about past sports victories punctuate the conversation. 

This is how Michaud’s Market works: people gather here day after day, lured by the powerful draw of good company. They joke around with Jim and his father—a sweet man, who winked and surreptitiously passed me a piece of cellophane-wrapped candy—over a couple of beers and some fast food. 

Jim thinks fast food is his niche.  He was forced to specialize in fast food, in order to stay in business and compete with Hannaford and other large markets. I disagree with his characterization; I firmly believe that Jim’s specialty is not fast food, but a good time.  
“This is our hole in the wall,” says local character Paul Reymond.

The crown jewel of Michaud’s is its counter, which is framed by wooden panels filled with evidence of Jim’s devotion to his community. There are pictures of the annual Memorial Day parade (Michaud’s is an unofficial stop because the crowd gets so large there) and the old high school IDs of a few local boys who used to eat lunch there regularly. When the boys went off to college, they wanted to leave a piece of themselves there.

A poster board covered with photos from a disposable camera jumped out at me. It’s headlined “HALLOWEEN 1999” in big letters on the top.

“That’s my brother, who died of cancer, he took these pictures.  Every year he would take pictures at Halloween. He took pictures of all the kids and we’d put ‘em up. A week later, they’d all come and see their picture,” Jim tells me. “This was his last Halloween, and that’s why we left them up.”

To this day, people still come back to see the pictures of themselves as children, to share the photos with their own kids and to soak up some of the good company that can always be found at Michaud’s.