HALLOWELL — Mayor Mark Walker led a tour Wednesday of several Water Street businesses to promote Small Business Saturday.

Walker was joined by Marilyn Geroux, the Maine District director of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Deputy Director Diane Sturgeon; Hallowell City Manager Nate Rudy; and representatives of Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins.

“It’s an opportunity to show off what we have here, and hopefully they’ll be a lot of patrons walking the streets,” Walker said. “It shows the diversity of the stores and restaurants and showcases the entire downtown.”

Downtown Hallowell business owners are preparing for the Water Street reconstruction project, which is scheduled to begin in April 2018. Lynn Irish, who owns WhipperSnappers Quilt Studio and was elected to the City Council earlier this month, said businesses are scared.

“We need advocates for our small businesses,” Irish said. Her plans for Small Business Saturday include offering a sale, which she said she doesn’t do very often because she “likes to keep prices low.”

As the group walked up and down the busy Hallowell street, Geroux and Sturgeon spoke with business owners and some customers about the establishments and some of the things they’ll be doing on Small Business Saturday.

Geroux, Sturgeon and several others in the group did their part to support local Hallowell businesses by buying items from Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe and other spots during the tour. While in the candy store, three Army recruiters based in Augusta were passing out custom dog tags as a way to thank local businesses for what they do for the community.

Saturday’s weather forecast calls for a cold and rainy day, but Aurilla Holt, of Berry & Berry Floral, hopes that doesn’t keep the foot traffic down.

“Hallowell loves Hallowell, so instead of being outside, everybody should come into the stores,” Holt said.

Many of the businesses along Water Street said they don’t see a noticeable difference in customers on Small Business Saturday when compared to other weekends during the holiday shopping season. But restaurants on Water Street such as the Liberal Cup, the Quarry Tap Room, Joyce’s and Slates should see an increase in patrons.

“I often go to two stores and then start asking about eating,” Walker said.

Scrummy Afters owner Kim Davis and her daughter Hilary said they know that people come to Maine to visit the coast, but they hope more people find themselves inland. They said they are busy whether they are promoting shopping on Saturday or a Hallowell party or other holiday events.

The candy shop decided Wednesday afternoon to offer free popcorn to any shopper who “pops in,” Hilary Davis said.

In a statement, Collins, a co-sponsor of the Senate resolution recognizing Nov. 26 as Small Business Saturday, said she sees evidence that Maine’s downtowns are making a comeback.

“From Norway to Augusta to Bangor to Eastport, empty storefronts are being replaced by creative shops, new businesses, and great restaurants,” she said. “This revitalization is due to the entrepreneurs, the small businesses, and the men and women who have taken the risk of opening up a new business. I encourage all Mainers to join me in supporting small businesses in our communities this weekend.”

King, also a co-sponsor of the resolution, is expected to walk around and visit several local businesses in a yet-to-be-determined Maine town throughout the day Saturday.

“Not only are small businesses the engine of our economy, but they’re also what help make Maine such a special place, and they bring our communities to life and bring us together,” King said in a statement to the Kennebec Journal. “Small Business Saturday is an opportunity to highlight these businesses and to recognize the important contributions they make to our state and to our economy.”

Small Business Saturday started in 2010 as a partnership between the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express. According to a news release from the U.S. Small Business Administration, about 95 million people reported shopping at small businesses on that day in 2015, and they spent more than $16 million.

“These are your communities, and the business owners are your teachers, your friends,” Geroux said. Sturgeon said the effect on the community when people shop at small businesses versus at big-box stores is immense and can help revitalize a town.

Geroux said the success of a small business sometimes depends on the involvement of town and city officials.

“I think it’s about how active the city manager and mayor is in promoting that town,” said Geroux, who plans to retire in January after nearly 50 years of advocating for small businesses. “I think Mayor Walker is gung-ho and is very supportive.”

Elsewhere, the Winthrop Lakes Region Chamber and local businesses are sponsoring a Progressive Shopping Day in the Winthrop region. Businesses in Winthrop, Monmouth, Wayne and Readfield will be offering specials and/or discounts, and shoppers who get a special “Shop & Eat Local” card marked by at least four businesses will be eligible for a drawing to win gift certificates.

“Small Business Saturday is the perfect chance for holiday shoppers to support their local merchants, who also happen to be vested members of the community,” said David Clough, Maine state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, in a statement. “When consumers take a trip to Main Street this Saturday, they will find themselves amongst their friends and neighbors.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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