NOVEL Soft Opening Set For Wednesday with Harsh Words for City Permitting Office


Nate Donovan, co-owner of NOVEL, a Bpok Bar & Cafe Opening at 643 Congress Street,, in Downtown Portland This Week.

Nate Donovan and Joshua Ames, co-owners of NOVEL, a New Book Bar & Cafe Opening This Week, 643 Congress Street, in Downtown Portland.

“We don’t want to compete with the holidays,” said Nate Donovan, a co-owner of  Novel, this afternoon at 643 Congress Street  in downtown Portland. That’s why a soft launch for the book bar & cafe is scheduled for Wednesday, December 20th.  Nate and his business partner Joshua Ames are planning to hold the grand opening after the New Year when  the holidays are over.

Currently, Novel has 6,000 titles in its book inventory.  Most of them are used with a few new book titles mixed in.  Michelle Souliere, of The Green Hand Book Shop, has curated the inventory and determined what books  NOVEL will keep in stock initially.  The current stock covers a wide variety – including fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. The partnership with Souliere is expected to evolve over time with Nate and Joshua assuming more control over the book inventory in the future.

An extensive cafe menu includes cocktails, beer, wine, in-house brewed coffee and items from the kitchen for the  hungry.  They can be enjoyed as patrons peruse books either at the bar or in comfortable seating arrangements scattered throughout the inviting space.

The transformation from the former Bomb Diggity Arts, a program for those with intellectual disabilities, is remarkable.  The non-profit located in that space folded because of the pandemic, leaving the space vacant for almost two years.  Nate and Joshua decided to pursue this combination of book bar and cafe because there is nothing like it in Portland at this time.  The decision to take over the space vacated by Bomb Diggity Arts for this enterprise seemed like a natural fit for them.

“It was a brutal experience,” said Nate. who holds an MBA, about dealing with Portland’s Planning & Inspections Office at city hall.  The delays while waiting for responses from the city to their questions easily cost them four months out of the two years of planning and preparing for this venture. The city is not interested in small businesses Nate said.  If you are a  corporation with plenty of assets you won’t have problems.  But for a small, independent business, Portland is not welcoming.  “Why are there so many small commercial spaces for rent in Portland?” he asked.  “That’s because they decide to move into the surburbs of Portand where small businesses are welcome rather than dealing with the Permitting & Inspections Office in Portland,” he answered.

Nate described the ordeal he went through with the city over the number of bathrooms needed for NOVEL.  After unexplained for weeks long delays,  the city finally acquiesed to the owners original request – one of the frustrating experiences of these entrepreneurs – and typical of the experiences other small business owners endure with the city with no accountability for poor job performancce.

NOVEL will be open from 8:00 am – 10:00 pm Wednesday – Sunday.  It will be closed Monday & Tuesday.

“What are we going to do about it?” was the question raised on the editorial page of the “Maine Sunday Telegram,” on Sunday, December 17th.  The editorial pointed out that the population of Maine has increased by 56,000 as of last year,  While the Republican-oriented daily doesn’t  credit Governor Mills (D) with any of this growth, does.  Her wise leadership is responsible for much of the growth the state is enjoying. There is an “opportunity” here the editorial declared with this population growth.   “What are we going to do about it?”   Cleaning house at the Permitting & Inspections Office at city hall would be a start – but just a start.  Unfortunatelly, city hall resists change for improvement to the city’s detriment.

In over fifteen years of blogging, has heard from countless small businesses about their frustration in dealing with the Permitting & Inspections office in Portland.  The city has paid for multiple studies in past years to determne  how to make the system at city hall more equitable and efficient.  Former city manager Jon Jennings once said he had fixed the system. ” Its streamlined.” he bragged.    BS.  All BS.

This novel idea is sure to catch on as it has in other parts of the state.  It is destined to be a new trend hard to duplicate by others who will try to copy NOVEL.