Seal Harbor's One-Stop Outdoor Shop: The Acadia Outdoor Center

July 22, 2021

Robyn Hanson knows the trails on Mount Desert Island better than most. A fifth-generation Seal Harbor resident, she has launched the Acadia Outdoor Center with her business partner, Jamie Whitehead, to enhance local outdoor experiences while providing year-round recreation for the community.

Located at 18 Main Street in Seal Harbor, the brand-new business offers bike rentals, coffee and ice cream/gelato, and an assortment of outdoor gear and gadgets.

Robyn’s roots on Main Street run deep. Her stepmother, Terri Hanson, ran the Coffee Shop Cafe until its closure last winter. It was important to Robyn that her business provide a place for different generations to mingle and make connections. “This little town needs a gathering spot,” she says. 

A photo of Robyn Hanson, owner of the Acadia Outdoor Center

Robyn Hanson, owner of the Acadia Outdoor Center in Seal Harbor. An avid hiker, Robyn hiked all of Maine’s 4,000ft peaks last year.

The Acadia Outdoor Center at 18 Main Street offers bike rentals, coffee and Pugnuts ice cream/gelato, and a variety of outdoor gear and products.

Years ago, 18 Main Street was a gas station where Robyn and her siblings bought penny candy. With the Acadia Outdoor Center, Robyn intends to remake the site as a place where residents and visitors of all ages can connect.

In the decades that she’s lived in Seal Harbor, Robyn recalls periods when only a few children lived in the village. “It felt like we were losing the year-round population,” she says. More young families are now moving in, but the population remains in flux as many can only find affordable housing during winter. As the village’s year-round population ages, Robyn worries there will be fewer people who remember their traditions.

Kids, she adds, are a natural bridge for the community. One of Robyn’s incentives for creating the Acadia Outdoor Center was to give her three sons and their friends a hang-out spot within walking distance. 

An unexpected outcome is that the entrepreneurial spirit has caught on. “My youngest wants to open a lemonade stand, and I came home one day to find they had designed a business plan,” she laughs. “I told them that they couldn’t just make money to spend it on ice cream at the shop, and they decided to donate part of their revenue to the library.”

Robyn’s son, a student at MDI High School, serves coffee and ice cream/gelato at the counter

Robyn and her father, Jim Hanson, built the shop’s counter and checkout counter. Jim has worked as a caretaker in Seal Harbor for 45 years. A lobsterman, he and Robyn often haul traps together.

The Acadia Outdoor Center has fifty bicycles for use on the carriage roads, although Robyn anticipates only a portion will be rented out at a time. With the help of a bike mechanic, they will also offer occasional bicycle repair and maintenance services.

While shipping delays have put their guided kayak tours on hold for now, it has also created an opportunity to perfect their retail. In addition to hot coffee and Pugnuts gelato and ice cream, the shop sells ethically-sourced and locally-made products, including brands using recycled materials like Cotopaxi and Maine-based Spandits.

Customers can refresh themselves with Maine-made Pugnuts ice cream.

Robyn’s outdoor retail section includes locally and sustainably-made products.

With their first season off to a positive start, Robyn is looking forward to expanding the Acadia Outdoor Center’s offerings in the off-season. Next up is an indoor climbing wall, which will provide another space for the community to gather throughout the year.

The combination of retail and rentals with proximity to the Park makes the Acadia Outdoor Center a perfect fit for Seal Harbor. Along with their neighbors at the Naturalist’s Notebook, they provide off-the-beaten-path access to Acadia and enjoyment of the natural world.