They might not grab as much attention as Black Friday shoppers stampeding through Walmart, but locally minded consumers have helped Midcoast retailers notch a strong start to the holiday shopping season, according to area business owners.
Stores like Brunswick’s Hatch on Maine tallied important sales this weekend, when Black Friday and Small Business Saturday deals coaxed gift buyers from their post-Thanksgiving stupors to Midcoast downtowns.
“There were times in Hatch where you look up and the shop was just packed full of people excited to be out holiday shopping,” said Dustan Larsen, who co-owns the boutique and its sister store Hatch Home. “The shop was busy pretty much all day long.”
November and December retail spending nationwide has consistently grown over the past decade, according to the National Retail Federation. While this winter will likely bring another record high, the organization warned inflation could slow the rate of spending growth, posing a challenge for Hatch and the many other small business that rely on a busy holiday season to make up for quieter months later in the winter.
Business groups like Main Street Bath and the Brunswick Downtown Association have turned to community events like Bright Night Bath and Brunswick’s Early Bird Sale to once again rally local shoppers, who provided a lifeline to retailers and restaurants during the challenging months following March 2020.
“I think the community sort of proved itself in terms of local support during the pandemic,” said Debora King, president of the Brunswick Downtown Association. “The message came through loud and clear: If you don’t support the local businesses now, they will not be around to support later.”
The strong business-consumer relationships built over years and tested during the pandemic benefit both parties, said Mike Fear, co-owner of Now You’re Cooking in Bath.
The store, which makes about 40% of its annual sales in October, November and December, is on track to match its record highs of 2020 and 2021, he said. Despite some supply chain-induced price increases, business has remained steady because customers trust Now You’re Cooking will charge them a fair rate.
“If we get a good deal, we pass it on to our customers,” Fear said. “They take care of us, and we try like heck to take care of them as well.”
Upcoming events like Freeport’s annual Sparkle Celebration and An Old-Fashioned Christmas in Bath will give residents an extra incentive to visit Midcoast downtowns and the storefronts that line them, while multi-purpose gift certificates like Downtown Brunswick’s “Buy Brunswick” gift card make it easy to shop locally.
Supporting a small Midcoast business may take a little more work than visiting a major online retailer, but King said the effort pays off in a big way for the community.
“The person at the call center at Amazon doesn’t do a little happy dance when they get a big order,” she said. “But you can guarantee that you’re putting smiles on the faces of the folks who are owning the (local) businesses and their staff.”