Pier pressure

By TONY GIAMPETRUZZI  |  August 8, 2007

As is often the case with coastal towns going the luxe route to appeal to more well-heeled and deeper-pocketed property-tax payers and tourists, many locals are none too happy to see the pier and fried-dough culture of OOB potentially replaced with the martini-sipping, Chanel-wearing set.

Take Paul Golzbein, a fourth-generation Old Orcharder who carps that any attempt at remaking Old Orchard would — and should — be a flop.

“It took people like my family 140 years to get it to this point, and there’s no way it’s going to change,” frets Golzbein, who owns the town’s (in)famous pier. “What they are trying to do is turn Old Orchard into Kennebunkport, or Ogunquit. Well, it’s not like that, and if that’s (the type of vacation) people really want, that’s where they should go.”

Golzbein says the town is facing change instigated mainly by town manager Jim Thomas, who, says Golzbein, recently accused the Pier owner of employing “whores and prostitutes,” a charge Golzbein is challenging.

Though the Phoenix could not reach Thomas for comment, his lawyer has reportedly disputed the claim. But Thomas has been quoted as making some rather harsh judgments about his town’s folk and their way of life, even alleging with money will come a reprieve of domestic violence.

“If you spend $400,000 for a condo and you are a two-income retiree, you are not going to be disorderly and fighting with your wife,” Thomas told Down East. “You are an asset, not a liability. I see us continuing to develop, to take down old structures and replace them with new. Our future is very bright.”

Golzbein says he is far from alone in his ire — for better or worse, residents and visitors alike want to get down with the honky-tonk vibe that has set Old Orchard apart from, say, Boothbay, Bar Harbor, Camden, or Castine, and, as camp land is being gobbled up by developers and large hotels start to cast shadows on the beach, campers worry about the future of their Old Orchard Beach.

Blocking the sun
Womack and LaPlante aren’t Kennedys by a long shot, and neither are most of the folks who have been coming to Powder Horn for some thirty years.

They, too, are nervous and unhappy with the development of half-million-dollar condos downtown, a movement to demolish the beloved midway that was once every Maine child’s dream destination, Palace Playland, and the replacement of shops that once sold snow globes with jewelry stores peddling baubles that exceed their means.

To be sure, they don’t necessarily fear being displaced so much as they are concerned about a shift in a way of life. They point to the Canadians who have always loved the way of life at OOB; with a dollar almost as strong as that in the US, Canadians are starting to vacation in the States after a noticeable absence, but they tell Womack and LaPlante that they’re coming back to a whole different world.

“You know, they love it here too, and they want to come here and we want them to come here,” says LaPlante. “But, without the rides, and the shops and the other stuff that they’re getting rid of, they just won’t come here. You know what? (The town) will lose a lot of business.

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