SKOWHEGAN — As the holiday shopping season officially kicked off this week, local businesses offered special sales and raffle opportunities to celebrate Small Business Saturday.

In Skowhegan, shoppers had several places around town offering holiday deals, from craft stores to antique shops to restaurants.

According to BigCommerce.com, Small Business Saturday began in 2010 with the hope that local business would help strengthen a sense of community within local economies. In 2018, about 7,500 businesses across the country were estimated to have participated in the shopping day.

At River Roads Artisans Gallery, local artisans Pam Wilcox and Nancy Jervey set up their work for sale as well as other artists.

Wilcox, of Belgrade, said a total of 27 artists have their work on display in the store for Small Business Saturday.

“The store represents 27 local artists, which are 27 people off the bat that benefit from local businesses,” Wilcox said.

Both women say that they do not participate in Black Friday shopping as most of their energy is focused on setting up the gallery and creating other work.

“I’m not a big business shopper,” Jervey, of Skowhegan, said. “We look forward to having a lot of people in downtown and around Skowhegan shopping for Small Business Saturday.”

River Roads Artisans Gallery offered a raffle throughout the day. For every $10 that a customer spent, they received a raffle ticket to enter to win art donated by artists in the store.

“Local is good,” Jervey said. “The artisans love making their craft and we want people to enjoy it. By participating in Small Business Saturday, you’re giving us artisans the opportunity to do what we love.”

Head cashier and artisan James Albert said the turnout had been excellent all day.

“There’s a lot of people that just enjoy local handmade items that are unique and one-of-a-kind,” Albert said. “We all put our hearts into making these things and people realize the importance put upon making these items for people to look at and enjoy or even buy.”

Shopper Karen Kenyon, of Waterville, said that she stopped by the Artisans Gallery on her way through town after a family member suggested it.

“I heard about this place from my family and was curious to see what the buzz was all about,” Kenyon said.

Kenyon’s original plan was to come in and see a display by an artist that utilizes honey in the work, but she also discovered several different pieces that grabbed her attention.

“I’m not a big Black Friday shopper; I prefer to support local businesses,” Kenyon said. “People are just so creative, and you really just have to stand in front of things to get a sense of how amazing they are. It is nice to reward local talent.”

According to Main Street Skowhegan’s executive director, Kristina Cannon, 67 cents out of every dollar spent locally stays in the community.

“Unlike chain or online retailers, local business owners support the local economy in a number of ways — they contribute to the tax base, they pay their staff, who, in turn, spend money locally,” Cannon said.

Cannon says that this is Main Street Skowhegan’s fifth year coordinating the Skowhegan Passport to Savings Program. With every purchase at a participating business on Small Business Saturday, shoppers are given raffle tickets into a drawing for a $100 gift card to a business of the winner’s choosing.

“Today, lots of businesses were busy, and you could pretty much guarantee that you’d see at least a handful of people you know while out and about,” Cannon said. “It’s really amazing to see our community come out in droves to support our local businesses.”

Additionally, Main Street Skowhegan also coordinates a year-round program called #ShopSkowhegan that gives shoppers the opportunity to win a $25 gift card just for shopping locally, sponsored through Bangor Savings Bank.

“Local merchants also support the community through sponsorships and donations to local schools, sports teams and organizations,” Cannon said. “It’s really a win-win for everyone.”

As the holiday season kicks off, families can look forward to next weekend’s holiday stroll. Beginning with a parade Friday evening at 7 p.m., Main Street Skowhegan has an array of weekend events, including breakfast with Santa, a Whoville Stroll and the Kennebec Dip. For more information, visit mainstreetskowhegan.org/holiday-stroll.

“We are super excited to welcome people to Skowhegan again next weekend for the annual Holiday Stroll,” Cannon said. “This year we’ve added a new activity — Whoville. We’re creating a real-life Whoville on the Debe River Walk adjacent to downtown, complete with kids activities, goodies and lots of family fun.”

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