I was down in the village last Saturday, doing errands and enjoying the relative peace and quiet now that most of the folks from away are well, away. It occurred to me that two of my favorite businesses in town are right next to each other, on a cul-de-sac off Cottage Street.
Cadillac Avenue is a short, narrow, heavily rutted dead end that opens up into a dirt lot facing the backs of other buildings on three sides. Not a promising piece of real estate, but very expensive nonetheless, just by being located in down town Bar Harbor. To one side of the dirt lot sits The Bagel Factory, where Agnes S. makes bagels. Agnes makes the best bagels in the world, but she does not tolerate stupidity, arrogance, sloth or bad manners. You may be able to get a bagel – or a salmon and mozzarella pizza, or a tempeh and goat cheese sandwich with ripe pears – or you may get kicked to the curb. Agnes is one of the finest human beings you will ever have a chance to meet – don’t screw up.
Just to the left of The Bagel Factory is Ahlblad’s Picture Framing or, as the sign says, “hlblad’s”. Nobody cares about the sign. All of Raymond Strout’s customers find their way by word of mouth and are willing to wait unspecified amounts of time for a frame and treatment of Raymond’s choosing. Martha Stewart deals with Raymond when she’s in town and so do countless collectors of old maps, antique prints and fragile photographs. His skill with molding is matched by his taste, and his memory for every piece of visual art and every customer that has ever passed through his door is perfect – an infinitely accommodating human database of art. Which must help him find what he needs amid the epic clutter of his shop.
But no one finds Raymond or Agnes through their web presence – they don’t have any. These stores barely have phone numbers, only appear on Google maps if you already know how to spell “(A)hlblad”, and are only open on the kind of schedule that needs to be memorized after long familiarity. You have to know someone who knows someone – someone on a budget who used to live in Paris and has a thing for reading Antonin Artaud over a bagel and a cup of hot cider, and therefore knows Agnes. Even then, you might arrive and find that the bagels are sold out and Raymond isn’t answering the bell. If you know a place like this, you’ll just shake your head and vow to come earlier next time.