Shopping small in Mid-Coast Maine, but not because of a national campaign

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BRUNSWICK — Many Maine Street stores were hopping on Nov. 26, but not because of an American Express-sponsored Small Business Saturday campaign.

By giving card holders gift cards and credits to use at small businesses that take American Express, the company was hoping to lure shoppers away from malls and back to local stores on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.

But many retailers said business was up because it always is this time of year, not because of the campaign.

At Nest, a furniture and home goods store on Maine Street, customers meandered between tables stocked with owl-shaped Christmas ornaments, hand-painted pottery and scarves.

Owner John Faulker said sales Saturday were up a little over last year, and noted that people seemed less unhappy about spending money this year. Traditionally, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has always been a good day, he said, especially for gifts and smaller items.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Small Business Saturday or not,” he said.

John Agren, owner of Agren Appliance, said he received a little extra Saturday traffic from the campaign, but thought his sales mostly carried over from the day before. Because Agren sells electronics, which he said are the traditional Black Friday lure, his customers tend to arrive on Friday to compare prices with big-box stores like Best Buy.

“Because we do electronics throughout our five stores, we’ve always been really busy on Black Friday,” he said. “We’re in there with all the big guys.”

But just down the street, the owners of Shift, a sustainable home goods store, had a very different weekend experience.

Corie Washow said Black Friday sales were so slow, she and her husband are considering closing the store on that day next year.

“It wasn’t really worth our time to be here financially and it didn’t feel good to be here,” Washow said. “You see all that press about Black Friday and you think people are camping out in the Walmart parking lot when they could be spending time with their family. … We don’t want to be associated with what that represents.”

Saturday, on the other hand, was great at Shift, and Washow said many customers mentioned they were shopping because it was Small Business Saturday. But she also noted that her customers tend to shop locally, regardless of national campaigns.

“I think we’re in luck in that our customer base is pretty aware and conscious anyway,” Washow said.

At the Brunswick Farmers Market at Fort Andross, several merchants said Saturday was slower than usual because many vendors took the holiday weekend off.

Jeanne Dube, who makes mittens and hats out of recycled wool sweaters, pointed to a line at a bakery stand that she said is usually much longer.

“It was quiet, which is too bad because it’s such a great market,” she said on Monday.

Still, the Small Business Saturday campaign worked in Dube’s favor when Karen Mills, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and wife of Bowdoin College President Barry Mills, bought a pair of mittens as part of her appearance at the market to promote the campaign.

Reaction to the campaign was also mixed among shoppers. Many said that they had heard of the campaign, but they always make an effort to buy locally.

Heidi Fessenden of Boston summed up many shoppers’ take on the campaign. “I buy mostly at small businesses anyway, whether today or not,” she said while browsing the Farmers Market.

Not every downtown business saw sales boom this past weekend. Josh Davis, owner of Gelato Fiasco, said he promoted Small Business Saturday while recognizing that it wouldn’t really drive sales.

He said he’s found that locally organized events, like the Brunswick Downtown Association’s Nov. 19 early bird sale and the Aug. 20 outdoor arts festival, do more to boost business around town than the national campaign.

They key, he said, is to create a brand for Brunswick.

“There’s a lot more people working on events that are going to drive business downtown now than I think a year ago,” he said. “It benefits the community a lot to see business owners working together.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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Signs in the window of a Bath business on Nov. 26 promote Small Business Saturday and the importance of shopping locally.

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