by Susan Mikula Campbell
When Rebecca Christie moved into her new Lewiston wine shop, Savory Sips, last October, she had the persistent feeling she wasn't alone, even when there were no customers in the store.
Blaming it on the foibles of the old building located at 467 Center St., she tried to ignore what sounded like heavy footsteps in the attic, lights going on and off, the door opening and closing on its own, and answering a ringing phone only to find dead air.
One evening, she invited some fellow business owners over to try some of her exclusive imported wine stock. She was across the room chatting, when suddenly her credit card machine batched out, a process that is done by hand involving several buttons.
"Some of the other business owners said, 'It's getting late; we should go.' It freaked a couple of people out," Christie said.
Strange incidents continued. She'd open the business and find wine bottles arranged on the floor and the candy dish nearly empty. The bottles had been in the rack and the candy dish full when she'd left the night before. On many evenings, a sort of fog would form about midway between floor and ceiling.
Empty bottles on a display case in the middle of the showroom would suddenly go flying, but not directly at her. "It looked like somebody shot put them across the room. I couldn't believe my eyes. That was pretty creepy."
Then came the evening she was locking the shop door, glanced back across the room toward the cash register desk, and saw the shadowy figure of a woman.
The woman has appeared again in more distinct form standing in the same spot. Christie describes her as about five feet tall, with black hair, wearing a powder blue, taffeta-like dress. "Our eyes locked," Christie said of the spirit. "I said 'Goodnight, have a nice evening.' "
Christie's 19-year-old daughter, however, ran out of the shop screaming and locked herself in her mother's car parked out front.
Since shops in that section are linked by basements, Christie isn't the only one who has had spirited encounters.
Next door, at 469 Center St., Pauline Ghougasian, owner of ModeImage, beauty salon/cosmetics and gift shop, has seen spirits both in her current location and the previous location two shops down.
In her first location, an older woman maybe in her 40s or 50s would walk up and down the shop looking at things, "just going about her business."
At the new location, some of the younger employees won't go into the basement with its hand-hewn tree trunk beams, which is used for storage - too much TV creating a negative image, Ghougasian scoffs.
Ghougasian was in the basement when a younger-appearing spirit (20s or 30s) reached out and firmly squeezed her arm.
"I said, 'I know you're here, but I startle very easily. Would you not do that again?' "
Ghougasian said she got a sense of someone saying they just wanted to feel a human body again, not with sadness really, but with a kind of yearning. The experience wasn't scary, but a bit sad, she said, describing the spirit as "sweet, very kind."
Meanwhile, Christie went online early this year, looking for someone who could tell her more about her business companions. In April, a small group, led by Theresa Gardner from Western New York Paranormal Partners, brought their testing equipment to the shop. They found what they believe is several spirits, including a mischievous young boy in the shop. They believe at least some of the spirits may have come from the War of 1812 period when the village was burned and many residents died. One of their voice recordings had a man shouting, "Get down!"
Gardner said it seemed as if "there was danger there and he wanted to protect his people."
Reportedly, the basement is a former cave, and there's a tunnel between it and the also allegedly haunted Frontier House across the street. Could the spirits have met their mortal end there?
Christie said one of the questions answered by asking the spirits to flash a light once for no and twice for yes was if it was "OK for Rebecca to stay here?" The answer came back yes.
"She has what we believe is intelligent haunting. We would speak and they would respond," Gardner said. "I feel they're sort of peacefully living side-by-side with her (Christie). There wasn't anything in there that wanted her out. They're just letting her know they were there."
Christie said she didn't believe in spirits before moving into her shop, but she does now. She's not frightened at all, even in the basement with its areas of unexplained cold and draft. In fact, she now feels almost comforted by the spirits' presence.
"At night if I'm here by myself, I'm really not alone," she said. "This is my first year here. The community has been very welcoming, both from the natural world and the spirit world."