Old Port shops feel recession's impact
PORTLAND — As the holidays draw near, Old Port merchants are offering deep discounts in an attempt to draw reluctant shoppers to the city's boutique district.
But at some stores, the sales are final. This holiday shopping season marks the end of business for them and several other Old Port shops.
Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District, said she expects the Old Port will have more closures this winter than in the last five, although she won't know for sure until January.
Beitzer said the Old Port is buzzing with shoppers, but those shoppers are not buying as much as they have in previous years.
"It's not as bad as a lot of people thought it would be," Beitzer said. "(But) it's not a gangbusters year."
The higher-end women's closing stores account for most of the Old Port closings, Beitzer said, while arts-related businesses seem to be doing better.
Among the stores that won't survive are Amaryllis Clothing Co., which has been on Exchange Street since 1979, and Simply Chic, an upscale clothing boutique that has been around since 2005.
Amaryllis is closing and will have a one-day sale Dec. 20 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Simply Chic has had "store closing" signs up for a couple weeks.
Beitzer said Edith & Edna, a boutique at 51 Exchange St., is also closing its doors.
Betsy's, another upscale clothing store on Exchange Street, has closed its stores in Freeport and South Portland, and employees at the Old Port store said the Portland outlet could be moving.
But there is a sign in the window announcing that store furnishings and fixtures are for sale and on Monday night the City Council granted a new restaurant, Wasabi, a beer and wine license to operate at 7 Exchange St. in "part of the space known as 'Betsy's.'"
As previously reported, the Movies On Exchange is moving at the end of the year to the Portland Museum of Art and will become Movies at the Museum. The independent movie theater has operated at 10 Exchange St. for 32 years.
Once the holiday rush is over, Beitzer said she expects to meet with downtown merchants to assess which stores are going out of business and also to work with the remaining merchants on marketing and promotions. She said business owners who weathered the recession 20 years ago could also be in positions to offer survival advice to other merchants.
PORTLAND — The Downtown District sponsors several events aimed at getting people downtown and into the Old Port during the holiday season. Thursday, Dec. 18, is the seventh annual Merry Madness, a night when shops stay open late.
This year, a free shuttle will run from the Eastland Park Hotel to three stops around town: the corner of Free and Temple streets, the corner of Middle and Exchange streets and the corner of Commercial and Silver streets.
The Merry Madness event begins Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Eastland. From 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., there will be raffles, free hors d'oeuvres and maps available of participating stores. The shuttle will run a continuous loop from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. For more information, go to portlandmaine.com and select the seasonal events link.