“Wonderful,” is how David Quinby describes BDC’s home ownership and business development. House #1’s first tenants, David and Marcia Quinby, established the adjacent structure to make a work space to secure a livelihood in 1993. Recalls David, “It was the first thing we did. Otherwise we’d have no place to work. We saw our savings dwindle. That was a scary time. We borrowed $10,000 to build it, and got through it.” The Quinbys, who added three children as well as a new business to the island, bought the home from ICDC a year later, in 1994. As David puts it, he and his wife “really stepped out in space” to add value to a home they didn’t own. That leap paid off: Marcia and David soon were exporting a wide variety of preserved and live marine creatures for high schools and colleges in 50 states and around the world via distributors, and were shipping sea urchins as far away as Japan and the Middle East via dealers. In 2002 the Quinbys sold the home-plus-shop back to ICDC and moved their company, Ocean Resources, to Sedgwick. The house was short-termed rented until December, 2005 when the Shaffers moved in.
Similar to the Quinbys, the Shaffer’s island export business has customers in 49 states (Hawaiians have so far missed out on the delectable artisan chocolates), Canada, Europe, Australia and the Middle East. Like the Quinby’s, the Shaffers renovated the home before they actually owned it. They even started major work on the modern, environmentally-friendly truffle-producing kitchen. Before the transition the Shaffers sublet shop space to residential building contractor Great Blue Heron (GBH) for woodworking and painting space to support a home-building business. Between sea creature exports, Steve’s brief stint in the painting business, contracting services, and upcoming chocolate-making, the ICDC property has facilitated employment for over 25 islanders.
Rudy Graf, chair of ICDC’s micro loan committee observes, “There are plenty of homes with scenic views on islands, but actual space from which to run a business is a real premium for anyone wanting to work. Steve and Kate are now poised for their chocolate business to soar. That’s good news for everybody.”
Steve Shaffer feels the good news in everyday life: “I am very excited to get production out of the house. I look forward to being able to go into the [household] kitchen and make a meal without having to dance around Kate and endure her frustrated looks at me for being in the kitchen. And vice versa.”
The Shaffers are two of many welcomed to the island by ICDC over the past 21 years (see “Providing Housing and Loans to Isle au Haut Residents for 20 Years” February, 2010). The BDC expansion and ICDC efforts perhaps signal a new era, considered just in time by many: Isle au Haut is in the final stages of an extensive comprehensive planing process, during which the overwhelming majority expressed desire to increase year-round population to 100. Isle au Haut’s current winter population hovers around 40 and there are three students in the K-8 school. ICDC has secured land from the town to build two new affordable homes and make room for additional productive, contributing families.
To those wanting to make a go of it on a small Maine island Steve advises: “How this whole venture developed was through observing the community around and seeing what would work in the space and what wouldn’t. I saw it as a blank canvas and by listening to people, thought about what was missing. You have to let the island form your thoughts as you go and be flexible in your thinking.”
Kate Taylor is a former resident of Isle au Haut and a current resident of North Haven. Kate is co-owner of Great Blue Heron.