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SOUTH PORTLAND — Amy Lainoff considers herself somewhat of an introvert.
So when the prospect of becoming president of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Buy Local was presented to her, it was particularly daunting.
SPCE Buy Local was founded in 2010 by residents seeking collaboration between local business owners and to provide incentives for new business owners to keep their businesses going. Today, the nonprofit has more than 200 members.
Dani Nisbet, the founding president of SPCE Buy Local and owner of Belissimo hair salon at 472 Ocean St., said she is pleased with the direction of the group since she left the helm.
“Any time you’re a part of a buy-local organization, you have the camaraderie of all local businesses; if there’s anything going wrong, everyone pulls together to help each other,” Nisbet said Tuesday morning.
Nisbet, who is in the process of passing her business on to her daughter, hasn’t been able to be involved as much in the group’s work, but she said she is continually pleased with its direction.
“They’re doing a lot right now to promote community support,” Nisbet said. “Of course buying local is the way to go. Our members live in the community, spend money in the community and care about the community.”
The members’ passion for the local movement and for helping other new businesses flourish “kept me coming back,” Lainoff said last week.
The opportunity for South Portland resident Lainoff to lead came in February, nearly two years after she became a member with her small-batch baking company, Amy’s Best Cookies.
She was cautious at first, but full integration didn’t take long. “I just found this group of people to be amazing,” Lainoff said.
Lainoff’s cookie operation is small; she cooks out of her home kitchen and mails orders free of charge from the post office.
During the day, she works as coordinator of Student Success and Retention at Southern Maine Community College. A large part of Lainoff’s job is advising veterans academically, and ensuring they receive their benefits.
Higher education has always been Lainoff’s passion, she said. Since she began the position in 2007, working closely with veterans has become especially important to her, personally and professionally.
Even so, “I was missing some creativity in my life,” Lainoff said. The question of satiating that creative impulse led her to experiment with new cookie recipes.
She began by using coworkers as taste testers, bringing in a different type of cookie each week and requesting feedback.
The subsequent decision to formalize her operation and actually open a business was easy. “I just said, ‘I think I’m going to try this,'” Lainoff said.
Lainoff’s website offers at least seven varieties of cookies, including “Everything but the Kitchen Sink,” a recipe that includes almost every cookie ingredient imaginable, plus three surprise ingredients, which Lainoff changes with each order, depending on what she has on hand.
Despite the revolving ingredients, Lainoff assures customers that all her cookies are “really homemade (and) they’re really fresh.”
While Lainoff’s only retail vendor is Cia Cafe in Knightville, she said she is interested in growing that client base. But marketing takes time that she doesn’t always have.
That’s where SPCE Buy Local comes in, not just for Lainoff, but for a lot of its members who have full-time jobs and small or burgeoning businesses on the side.
Networking is a major perk that comes with being a member of the group, Lainoff said.
After becoming president, Lainoff said she was worried she didn’t know enough of the local business base to fill the position effectively. “I learned later, (doing this) is how you meet people,” she said.
Board members, including officers for SPCE Buy Local, participate on a volunteer basis. The annual membership fee is $75.
The organization facilitates professional relationships between business owners, Lainoff said, but it also works to build community, which is “what’s really important (when) helping local businesses thrive,” she said.
Supporting local businesses begets more local businesses, Lainoff said. As South Portland continues to move forward on major initiatives like the Mill Creek Master Plan, which aims to resuscitate the Mill Creek neighborhood through new development, having a strong network of local businesses becomes an attraction to new ones moving into the city.
People “want to live in a community where local business is thriving,” Lainoff said.
Nisbet said it’s satisfying to stand back and see the group grow.
Often with buy-local groups, she said, it takes years to implement ideas with other business owners. “You have the idea of what you want the buy local to be,” Nisbet said. “They continued on and even went further than we thought.”
SPCE Buy Local will showcase its network of local businesses at the third annual Bug Light Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, at Bug Light Park. The event is free and will include live entertainment, food from local restaurants and kid-friendly activities like face painting and a bouncy house.
Amy Lainoff of South Portland became president of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Buy Local in February. She owns her own small business, Amy’s Best Cookies.