‘Down East will always be here, a part of our community and we of it’

Down East Enterprise puts longtime Rockport home on market

Fri, 11/13/2020 - 1:30pm

    ROCKPORT — Bob Fernald, president of Down East Enterprise, Inc., and publisher of Maine’s iconic Down East Magazine, is upbeat about the future of the business, but is clear about wanting to divest of the offices the company has occupied since 1978. Two-thirds of the employees are currently working from home during this pandemic, he said, and the large, rambling space is just no longer necessary.

    The Down East office is on Route 1 in Rockport, ‘down near the hospital,’ for locals who want an immediate idea of where the former summer estate-turned-magazine-office is located. 

    It is a large gray-shingled old cottage at 680 Commercial Street with a barn that has been converted into a warehouse for the publishing company. In former days, polo ponies stabled nearby at what is now Megunticook Campground galloped on the nearby field. That was Rockport in a different century.

    Down East Magazine’s roots extend back to 1954, when it was first published in an office on Bay View Street in Camden. At Camden Harbor, near the Waterfront Restaurant, sits a big bollard where the magazine’s founders, the Doolittle family, placed a memorial to the magazine.

    “Since 1954, our mission has been simple: to hold a mirror up to Maine, showcasing its landscapes, traditions, droll and flinty character, and unhurried way of life, as well as to confront its complexities intelligently and with heart,” the magazine states, on its website.

    In 1976, the Fernald Family purchased Down East from Duane Doolittle, a former Syracuse University professor who moved to Maine year-round to establish the magazine. Two years later, the Fernald relocated the magazine to Roxmont, where the business grew as as publishing house, adding books to its roster of magazines.

    Roxmont had been built by F.O. Havener, of Wheeling, West Virginia, according to Reuel Robinson, in his History of Camden and Rockport, Maine, published in 1907. That was during the turn of the 20th Century, the age when Camden and Rockport were bustling with construction of large summer rusticator cottages.

    “This place has been wonderful,” said Bob Fernald, president and CEO, and who represents the second generation of the family-owned business.  “In 1978, about 12 people moved here. It had 10 bedrooms, a large living room, and an apartment. It even had an icehouse. Perhaps most important of all, lots of parking.

    “As the business grew, so did the building. We started a book business that eventually need two warehouses. We bought or started five other magazines. We’ve even had a stock car racing magazine with Dick Berggren — a famous race car driver and TV commentator. At the peak in the early 2000s, just over 75 people worked here filling 30,000 square feet across all the buildings. Since then we sold the book business and stock car magazine and stopped publishing two of the small magazines.”

    In addition to Down East Magazine, the business currently publishes Maine Homes and Shooting Sportsman Magazine with a staff of 35 writers, editors, photographers, designers, circulation, sales and marketing directors, and operates a retail operation featuring “good things from Maine.”

    The business of magazine publishing has dramatically changed, said Fernald.
    “Today some parts require specialized skills that can’t be readily found in Maine. Instead we focus on the things that you would never allow anyone else to touch — the editorial content, design and advertising sales. Accounting and management. Our online store.  Most importantly, the relationship with your readers. Allow me to crow— most other Maine publishers like us are struggling, or out of business, yet we’ve managed to thrive. It’s because of the people who work at Down East and living in this community.  Collectively, we do our business very well.”
    The company is divesting its real estate at a time when most of the staff are working from home, the result of a global pandemic that sequestered workers beginning late last winter.
    Selling the real estate does not imply the days of the magazine office are ultimately over; in fact, Fernald said that Down East will, “find another place in the area that we can love.”
    And he remains optimistic about the business.
    “I’d like to think Down East in the future will be the same: we will adapt and thrive,” said Fernald.
    While COVID-19 has changed the office landscape, a revolution that won’t change anytime soon, he has witnessed no setbacks.
    “Amazingly, we haven’t missed a beat,” said Fernald. “All of our systems are online except our accounting. With Slack, Zoom and Google Meet, communicating with each other is quick and easy. In may respects, I’m now more in touch with coworkers than when they were just down the hall.”
    He regrets, however, the closure of the retail store and the Down East front desk.
    “Two people who had worked with us for years lost their job,” he said. “On the bright side, today 35 people are doing great work together — just not in the same building. This is why we are moving from Roxmont. Just the few people who must be here are working in a space meant for 80. It’s again time to change.”
    Fernald said that Down East Magazine is here to stay.
    “As long as I have any say, Down East will always be here; a part of our community and we of it,” he said.

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657