One of the reasons I moved to Maine was because it has coastline. It also has Portland, with a wonderful arts community and fabulous array of restaurants and shops. Particularly the shops in the Old Port. Fancy little boutiques, quaint bookstores and toy shops with finely crafted treasures.
When I first visited Portland, it was holiday time. December. I remember walking down Commercial Street and up through the maze of streets that make up the beloved Old Port.
I was taken in by the cobblestones, festive lights and the smell of the sea. It was magical. I wandered in and out of shops, browsing and buying trinkets for my children’s Christmas stockings. I think it may have even been snowing. It was like a fairyland to me – a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It felt like “home.” That was when I knew I could live here.
I’ve now been a Maine resident for nearly seven years, and have spent seven holiday seasons trying to spend my shopping dollars in the Old Port. And I realize one thing: Portland does not want my money.
For six years and nearly five months, I have been assaulted by those blue stickers that admonish us to “Buy Local.” Let me say here and now, in the presence of God and all of The Forecaster readers, “I would happily buy local if I could find a few stores that would stay open past dinner time.”
Every holiday season, I look forward to one or two holiday shopping trips in the Old Port. I’m not a mall person, and love the romance of Christmas shopping outdoors, wandering around while sipping a steamy hot cocoa. If it happens to be snowing, so much the better. Bring it on, I say.
But Portland seems to want me to shop at the dreaded mall. Or drive to New Hampshire or Massachusetts, where stores seem aware that staying open past dinner time during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas means you may attract holiday shoppers. Which – hello! – equals holiday profits. Economics 101.
I remain befuddled by the entire situation. And I’m tired of the whining about buying local.
Last December, a friend and I got together for some spontaneous Christmas shopping and a dinner. As we wandered through the Old Port, darkness set in. But since that occurs around 4:15 in December, it wasn’t exactly time to roll up the sidewalks.
We saved our favorite shop for last, and as we turned the doorknob, were greeted by an anxious looking saleswoman who informed us they were closing. A handful of other shoppers were still milling about. The saleswoman jingled her keys like a prison guard as we almost apologetically said we’d just take a quick peek. I’d barely made it to the back of the store when another saleswoman hit the lights, thereby leaving a fellow shopper and me in semi-darkness.
They obviously wanted us gone.
Heaven forbid they stay five minutes longer and make a sale. Never mind that – when did it become good manners to throw customers out on the sidewalk? I imagine they didn’t own the store. At least I pray not, because that would be truly tragic.
I’m not proposing 24-hour shopping. Or Walmart hours. But I might suggest it would be profitable to stay open long enough for people who get out of work at 5 to have sufficient time to then spend some of the money they’ve just earned.
As we left, the saleswoman with the keys smiled awkwardly and said in a hushed tone, “Please do come back.”
To which I silently replied, “I wouldn’t wait up, sweetheart.”
I have accepted that my only local grocery store closes at 8 most evenings. Honestly, I think it promotes family togetherness. But please, it’s Christmas. I don’t know the numbers, but I imagine quite a large percentage of yearly retail profits are racked up during the happy holiday season.
So let’s get with the program, Portland. Take my money. Please!
Or I’m going to use those “Buy Local” stickers to decorate the gift boxes of the presents I just bought in Newburyport. At 8 o’clock at night.
No Sugar Added is Cape Elizabeth resident Sandi Amorello’s biweekly take on life, love, death, dating and single parenting. Get more of Sandi at irreverentwidow.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.