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Auburn launches grant program to spur corner store comeback

The city plans to award four grants of up $35,000 to help revitalize local corner stores offering fresh, local food.
Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine

AUBURN, Maine — The City of Auburn is hopeful that a new grant program can spur the revitalization of neighborhood corner stores.

"This grant really has multiple different goals. One is obviously to spur entrepreneurship. Two is [to] build that healthy food accessibility within the urban core of our city. And three is to build community again," Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said. 

Levesque said restrictive zoning laws passed in the 1950s and '60s barred corner markets in many parts of the state. Through comprehensive zoning reform, Levesque said the city is working to alter those restrictive zoning laws and allow for corner stores to once again thrive.

"It's legal to have good healthy neighborhoods again, where you can walk to stores, get healthy locally sourced food, and talk with your neighbors and build community," Levesque said. 

AUBURN NEIGHBORHOOD CORNER STORE PROGRAM - Applicants wanted! Corner stores are essential to city ecosystems - and...

Posted by City of Auburn, Maine (Official) on Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The City of Auburn has allocated $150,000 of American Rescue Plan Funds for its Neighborhood Corner Store Program. Levesque said the city anticipates awarding four grants of up $35,000 to help expand existing corner stores or establish a new one. 

"We're going to stabilize our existing corner stores and local grocers, but we'll attract a different type of specialty operations from outside of Auburn into Auburn like it used to be," Levesque said. 

According to Levesque, five businesses have applied for a grant. 

"We're going have more space, more local products. We've already been chatting with other local producers of different goods, so it's going to be great to be able to expand our offerings," Matthew Manson, co-owner of Blackie's Farm Fresh Produce in Auburn, said. 

Manson's store on Minot Avenue is one of the applicants. His store already offers numerous options for local produce, meats, dairy, and more, and hopes, if approved, they can expand and serve even more people.

Levesque said the city has closed the application window and hopes to announce recipients soon. 

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