Sohns family part of happenin’ scene in Bangor
There are not many places in Maine where one can purchase viper skin necklaces or rare Andean blue opal from Peru and examine the complete lower jaw of a mosasur (a marine reptile extinct for 65 million years).
The Sohns family, though, has created such a place.
Building on a lifelong passion for natural history, the siblings — Tony Sohns, Annette Dodd and Amanda Sohns — along with parents Arlene and Jim and Annette’s husband, Chris, are the force behind the Rock and Art Shop.
Now with three locations — Ellsworth, Bangor and Bar Harbor — the shop is a way for the family not only to do what they love, but also share their personal collections for visitors to enjoy and learn from.
Tony is a natural history educator who holds a degree in entomology. Annette is an artist and art teacher at Dedham Elementary School. Amanda holds a degree in entrepreneurial business.
“I would say the biggest thing about the shop is that you can come in and learn something; we pride ourselves on that,” Annette said. “I mean, not only do you get a beautiful gift but you get education as well.”
The Ellsworth shop, located on Route 1A, even has nature trails that Chris Dodd constructed for visitors to explore everything from lady’s slippers to lung lichen.
“It’s short, it’s 0.25 miles, but it’s a great walk in the woods, especially families who need a break,” Annette said. “[The Rock and Art Shop] is a perfect break because kids love rocks and you’ve got the nature trails.”
At a young age, the three siblings were interested in minerals and natural history. Tony would take Annette and Amanda to explore Bennett’s Gems and Jewelry in Belfast or wake Amanda up at 2 a.m. to trek to Belfast to see if the squids were in.
Growing up in Bucksport, all three siblings worked at Vance’s Tropical Fish and Exotic Pets.
“The best way to describe [Vance’s Tropical Fish and Exotic Pets] would be if we sold tropical pets,” Annette said. “Vance’s, in my opinion, is still the best fish store in the area.
“[Vance Peters] is an entrepreneurial spirit who we worked for and who got us to understand owning your own business and the creative aspects around it.”
According to Amanda, the three divvy up the responsibilities of all three shops. Tony takes care of the signage and making sure the natural history is explained, along with the small outreach program at the shop.
Annette handles the artists and galleries, as well as anything to do with aesthetics. Amanda is in charge of the books and the business side. All three are buyers. Each has his or her own vision when it comes to buying items to display.
“We kind of fill it with things we love,” Amanda said. “So products we use but couldn’t find in the area or things that we always wanted.
“In Tony’s case, the weird things are things he’s always wanted. As for minerals, we all have very different eyes for things. Tony likes the weird, unusual and rare. Annette likes big and pretty and I’m more of a fossil person.”
The siblings try and live by a five-step motto for items such as archaic jasper to brass sparrow necklaces to abalone bracelets and orthoceras plates.
“Our motto is always local first. We do as much made in Maine, made in America, Fair Trade and ethically harvested,” Amanda said. “When it comes to rocks, it can be a really nasty industry, so what we do is we try to get as close to the mining source as possible so we know what mining practices they’re using.”
The siblings all live in Bangor now, a city that they have grown to care a lot about. Because of this, the family decided that they wanted to really involve the community — hosting art talks and opening the Sohns Gallery in the Bangor shop.
“We grew up in this area and I remember when you’d go to the Grasshopper Shop and then get the heck out of dodge and that’s not downtown anymore,” Amanda said. “Downtown is a hip city that’s coming alive and it’s doing that mostly because people are getting involved.
“But there is also a huge amount of young people who are becoming business owners and getting involved…I think there is a new sense of ownership over downtown. We are taking ownership and trying to revive it making it a safe and friendly and hip place to be…I think it’s important that there is a place where there is culture where people can actually say, ‘Oh, this is Bangor.’”
The Rock and Art Shop Where: 1584 Bangor Road, Ellsworth; 36 Central St., Bangor and 13 Cottage St., Bar Harbor.