SOUTH PORTLAND — Bill Dunnigan said he originally planned to find someone to lease his retail space at 72 Ocean St.
But those plans took a more personal turn, and on Wednesday Dunnigan and his wife, Jeannie, opened Cia – an acronym for their shop’s three features: coffee, ice cream, and art.
The Dunnigans, working with their son, Robert, welcomed customers on the first day of spring, about eight hours after hanging their sign during the last snowstorm of winter.
“It feels right, as exhausted as I am, it feels really good,” Jeannie Dunnigan said as she took a break from serving coffee and baked goods.
Cia offers an eclectic blend of local products: coffee from Wicked Joe’s in Brunswick, ice cream by Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, and baked goods from Two Fat Cats and Bagel Guy in Portland. The Knight family, owners of Smiling Hill Farm, have even blended a special “White Knight” ice cream for the shop – a mix of French Vanilla, salted caramel, and chocolate chunk served over a chocolate brownie with hot fudge.
It is just the beginning of working with local companies, the Dunnigans said, as they try to make the neighborhood as much a destination as a home. Besides owning the coffee shop at the corner of Ocean and D streets, the Dunnigans live in one of the Mill Cove Landing condominiums above.
“I want to make Knightville a more pleasing place to visit,” Jeannie Dunnigan said.
Bill Dunnigan said he discovered the area almost by accident.
His full-time job at Creative Imaging brought him to Scarborough after the Dunnigans had lived in and near Newburyport, Mass., for about 18 years. While jogging one morning, he found himself in Knightville.
“It was during all the construction. It looked like something from a movie, but I thought it was a really cool area,” he said.
As the neighborhood took shape after installation of pipelines, new sidewalks and street lamps, the Dunnigans said they saw a real opportunity to help the area thrive.
“The goal is to make this area more a ‘little SoHo.’ You’ve got a lot of reason for people to be down here” he said.
The artwork has a local feel, too. Jeannie Dunnigan – who is an accomplished artist and art teacher – has painted Ocean Street landscapes on recycled burlap coffee bags, and relied on her connections to find other contributing artists.
Several of John Swan’s oil paintings and watercolors from rural Maine and the Bahamas are hanging because of a reference from an electrician who worked on the coffee shop. Painter Sharon McGauley’s work was discovered when Jeannie was tipped by a friend who provided a website link.
In all, five artists, working in media including pottery and handmade lights, are displayed along with Dunnigan’s, and she said variety will be the order of the day as the coffee shop moves forward.
“We want this to be equally about the arts; it is going to make us different from anybody else,” she said. “We want people to come in and see all new art on the walls in two months.”
Knightville resident Thomas Marino came downstairs from his condominium to be one of Cia’s first customers.
He has not been in the neighborhood much longer than the Dunnigans, and said the mix of residential and commercial uses is a good fit for him.
“It is what we were looking for when we moved here,” Marino said. “I wanted something like a neighborhood, not a strip mall.”
He did see one potential drawback, though.
“It could be dangerous, with ice cream at 8 o’clock at night,” Marino joked.
The Dunnigans got equipment, advice and friendship from Vicki Cambridge and Stephan Thayer, the couple who previously owned Cambridge Coffee on Broadway. Like the artist referrals, Jeannie Dunnigan said the initial connection was digital.
“We found each other on Craigslist,” she said.
Thayer and Cambridge invited the Dunnigans to visit, and Thayer said he likes Cia’s chances in Knightville.
“This could be like Willard Square,” he said.
The combination of nearby hair salons, offices, Smaha’s Legion Square Market, Verbena cafe, the Griffin Club, and the Bridgeway, Snow Squall and Taco Trio restaurants, is exciting, Jeannie Dunnigan said, as is the chance to balance food, art and friendship.
“I enjoy people and exhibiting fine art in a fun environment,” she said.
Cia owner Jeannie Dunnigan, right, chats with Knightville resident Thomas Marino after the coffee shop and gallery opened Wednesday morning at the corner of Ocean and D streets in South Portland. Dunnigan said she looks forward to serving neighbors and people discovering Knightville.
Cia – an acronym for coffee, ice cream and art – opened Wednesday morning at 72 Ocean St. in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood. The business is open daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m. and serves beverages, locally baked goods and Smiling Hill Farm ice cream, and will exhibit a changing variety of original art. Extended hours are planned during the summer.