GARDINER — Amber Hyatt, owner of a tailor shop in downtown Gardiner who briefly stopped by Jokers and Rogues brewpub, where taproom manager Melissa Rose was ready to fill growlers to go on Small Business Saturday, says everybody tells her small businesses are the backbone of the Maine economy, but she doesn’t agree.

She said it’s bigger stores, even including chain box stores, that are truly the backbone of the economy.

Small businesses? They’re the heart.

“It’s not true, we’re not the backbone,” Hyatt said as she left the brewpub to see what else was going on in downtown Gardiner Saturday. “We’re the heart. And you can’t do anything without the heart.”

I short distance away, on Winter Street, Jamie Paradis and Nicole Bernier showed some heart for their fellow crafters, by opening up their pop up retail space at Majestic Craft Store to more than 80 crafters and artists, in space normally used for their beauty shop supply business.

When the economy largely shut down earlier this year, the beauty shop supply business was stagnant, as shops that had been forced to close by state government didn’t order supplies, and supplies, in turn, became hard to come by. To help close the gap the lack of beauty shop business had on their finances, the couple began selling their homemade soaps, Majestical Soaps, at arts and craft shows. They got to know other crafters and talked with them about the crafters’ concerns that the pandemic had forced most craft shows, which many crafters rely on to sell their goods leading up to Christmas, to cancel, leaving them nowhere to sell their handmade items.

So Paradis invited them to sell their wares at the new pop up craft store, where more than 80 artists each have their own small spaces on shelves, offering everything from handpainted signs and bird feeders to essential oils, gourmet chocolates, pet treats and glass jewelry and ornaments. He said he’s not taking a cut of the crafters’ sales, so they get the full profit for any items that he sells at the store.

“Everyone was concerned, with most of the shows canceled, they’d have no place to sell their stuff, and a lot of them rely on November-December sales,” Paradis said of crafters. “We’re trying to help everyone out, that’s the ballgame. Everybody has been really happy with it. Customers too, because there’s no other place for them to go” to buy handmade crafts for gifts.

Taproom manager Melissa Rose speaks about growler sales during an interview Saturday at the Jokers and Rogues brewpub in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Launched in 2010 as a campaign by American Express, Small Business Saturday was created in the midst of an economic recession. The goal was to encourage people to shop local for the holiday season.

Customer Donna Martin, of Dresden, was on her second trip to Majestic Craft Store, which she said is the closest she could find to a craft show this season.

“I’m missing the craft fairs, because of COVID,” she said. “I like the homemade stuff, unique things you can’t find in big box stores.”

The craft shop has been so popular Paradis said it will close, as planned, on Christmas Eve, but will open back up a week or so after that on a regular basis. The beauty shop, where most customers are professional hair stylists, will remain in a corner of the 26 Winter St. spot.

Merchants at multiple small businesses said they’re trying to strike a balance in the pandemic between drawing enough shoppers to have a decent holiday sales season, but not so many shoppers all at the same time, to stay within state guidelines meant to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Tamara Whitmore, known for Saturday at least, as “Jingles” the elf helper, a volunteer for Gardiner Main Street, passed out shopping bags and made suggestions to shoppers on downtown Water Street, and she also had the task of helping make sure not too many shoppers — five was the limit based on the store’s size — came into Monkitree art gallery and gift shop at once.

Clare Marron, owner of the shop, said Jingles’ assistance was welcome as she didn’t have time to both help her customers while also watching the door to make sure not too many came in at once.

“We want you to come, we just don’t want you all come at the same time,” she said of holiday shoppers in the pandemic.

Whitmore said she did some shopping in downtown Gardiner on Friday so she’d have time to volunteer Saturday. On Saturday she helped direct shoppers and gave them options where they could shop in the meantime when Monkitree was full.

Shopper Melissa Winchester, of Gardiner, was looking for gifts for friends at Majestic and later planned to try Ruby’s Place, a new bakery in the city, and El Oso, a Mexican gift shop and eatery, which are both on Water Street. Gardiner Main Street had some special holiday offerings for shoppers on Water Street as well.

“I’ve got a few gifts left to get, and I want to help local businesses,” Winchester said. “I want to see downtown thrive.”

Owner Clare Marron talks about the holiday shopping season Saturday at the Monkitree Gallery in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

What, specifically, was Winchester looking for, for gifts?

“I’ll have to see what talks to me,” she said while scanning the variety of crafts at Majestic.

Melissa Lindley, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, and Perri Williams, an Americorps fellow, oversaw an elf hunt and a shop small raffle, from the mini-park in downtown Gardiner. Shoppers who purchase any item from local participating stores get a raffle ticket for weekly raffles of items and gift certificates from local stores valued at about $100.

And young shoppers, in the elf hunt, could count how many elves they see on display in downtown stores and enter a contest for a $20 gift certificate. And they had a mailbox in the mini-park, to collect letters to Santa from children. Lindley said the letters will be answered, too. Those promotions will continue throughout the holiday season, not just Saturday.

Lindley said the idea of the promotions is to, as usual, attract shoppers to downtown business but, this year, with the twist of trying not to attract them all at once, to allow for socially-distant shopping.

“We’re trying not to draw everyone to one location, at one time,” she said. “It’s a little more low key, but still getting people walking around and seeing what’s here in Gardiner.”

Jason Goucher, an owner of Niche Inc. music store, said business came in spurts both on Saturday and Friday, which was one of this year’s Record Store Day Drops.

He said Saturday he’d sold some bigger-ticket items, such as a ukulele, which was nice.

Three tables set up in one side of the store, normally used by people for playing games such as Magic the Gathering, were empty.

Goucher said the store had been hosting between six and eight people for game nights, but he recently decided to stop, to help with efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The store, a 35-seat live music venue, is also not currently having any live shows.

“I hate to turn people away,” he said. “No one forced us to stop, I just wanted to do my part, as a community member, to help keep our customers safe, and me safe. But I still need people to come here …”

Rose, taproom manager at Jokers and Rogues, said the brewpub, due to state pandemic-related restrictions, isn’t allowed to serve customers inside. So, instead, they’re at least filling and selling growlers to go, during the limited hours they’re open, including on Small Business Saturday. She said it was hard for the brewery to sell growlers before it had a chance to establish a customer base by serving people its craft beers in person. But she said word of mouth and loyal customers from among the tap room’s downtown neighbors have helped.

Donna Martin browses the shelves during Small Business Saturday at the Majestic Craft Store Popup Shop in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“They’re our best customers,” Rose said of other downtown business owners and workers. “We’re all just trying to help each other out.”

In Waterville, shoppers were lined up outside of the Paragon Shop on Main Street on Saturday as others window shopped through downtown.

Joy Roberge, a retail clerk at Paragon Shop, said that business had been steady both Black Friday and when the store opened its doors at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The 9-by-45-foot spot at 113 Main St. allowed up to five shoppers at a time.

“It’s been very steady both yesterday and today, and people have been very patient about waiting outside,” Roberge said. 

She added that the only sale going on was on fall merchandise, but many have come out to support small businesses. The store has been owned by Nancy and Roger St. Amand for 38 years and has two other employees, though ownership will be changing. Roberge added that the new owners are likely going to keep the shop the way it is.

“People are more intent on spending in local businesses just to support everyone for Small Business Saturday,” Roberge said. “We didn’t need to specialize in any big sale to make people want to come in.” 

For shopper Dawn Marin, the Paragon Shop was the first and only stop for her Saturday. A longtime customer of the downtown shop, Marin said that she and another friend used the shop years earlier for her wedding registry. 

“I live right in town and was born and raised here, and I’m not a normal holiday weekend shopper,” Marin said. “I read an article that they (have) enough to sell, so I’m here. One day this summer I was sitting outside of Silver Street Tavern and I was window shopping. I didn’t know if they were open at the time, but I saw stuff that I liked. I don’t get out of the house much and today was that day. They have beautiful stuff here, like houseware pieces, collectables, scarves and clothing.” 

Marin added that due to both the pandemic and crowd sizes, most of her holiday shopping was done online this year, though she still tries to support local restaurants and other businesses that have been struggling because of the pandemic. 

“I think I’ve only gone out for one Black Friday with my kids many years ago, and I didn’t think it was worth it,” Marin said. “This year with the pandemic, it was definitely a lot easier to just shop online.” 

These lobster stocking ornaments were some of the items for sale Saturday at the Majestic Craft Store Popup Shop in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

When looking at sales this year versus last year, Roberge added that despite the pandemic, sales have been comparable to previous holiday shopping weekends. 

Just down the street at L. Tardif Jeweler, craftsman Jim Delorenzo said that business was slow throughout the morning, but they were expecting the afternoon crowd to arrive soon. He added that the business closed for about 12 weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, but sales have been steady and business is moving forward. 

In Skowhegan, holiday weekend shopping festivities have been extended through Dec. 5.  

Main Street Skowhegan has also partnered with a handful of local businesses to extend the shopping specials for another week to create #ShopSmall Week, an event that offers shoppers incentives for supporting small businesses in the area. 

Starting Saturday and through Dec. 5, shoppers can receive discounts from the 49 participating shops in the area. With every purchase, shoppers can fill out a raffle ticket for a drawing of two $100 gift cards and two $50 gift cards. Raffle winners will be selected at the end of the week and the gift cards can be used at any local business. 

Sponsors Key Appliance, Russakoff Jewelers, Holland’s Variety Drug and Computer Improvements are also offering deals throughout the week. 

A full list of participating businesses and deals can be found at mainstreetskowhegan.org.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.