CAMDEN, Maine — Holiday lights in downtown Camden will wrap around the lamp poles on Elm and Bayview streets this year. In more lucrative times, holiday lights framed store doorways and windows instead.
“We’ve got enough empty storefronts,” Janis Kay, a board member of the Camden Downtown Business Group, told the Select Board last week. “It will help to have these lights.”
The business group, which has taken the responsibility of sponsoring and installing the lights, will use incandescent lights at a cost of $6 a string, as opposed to LED lights, at $30 a string, she said.
“That’s $200 versus $1,000,” she said.
The new lights will be on a timer set to go out at a certain hour.
The Select Board vote 4-1, with board member Anita Brosius-Scott opposed, to try the light pole design for one year.
Kay said later in an interview that the town and the business groups have been divided, but have started to come together.
“We have a lot of empty stores,” she said, pointing out vacancies where Stitchery Square, a yarn, knitting and needlework shop, stood for 25 years, next to the empty former Earth Bound clothing store on Elm Street.
Two other shops and a former movie theater on Bayview Street are closed, and the Maine Foothills family clothing store on downtown Mechanic Street is closing in December.
Co-owner Dianne Gimbel said Foothills is closing to consolidate with the company’s other retail businesses in Boothbay Harbor.
With the current economic crisis in mind, the 60-member Camden Downtown Business Group, the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce and other parties formed an alliance called the Camden Community and Economic Development Advisory Committee.
The new group will be made up of Camden residents and business owners, the Camden town manager, a Select Board member, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and the director of the Knox-Waldo Regional Economic Development Council.
Presented to the Select Board by Susan Howland, chief financial officer of Wayfarer Marine Corp. and a Downtown Business Group member, the new alliance would focus on the short-term and long-term economic community and community development of the town.
“We’re interested in the downtown,” Howland said.
The Select Board approved the concept and agreed to take final action at its December meeting.
Barrie Pribyl, owner of ABCD Books on Bayview Street and co-chairman of the Camden Downtown Business Group, agrees with the alliance’s concept.
“I think all of us between Thomaston and Belfast should think regionally about marketing,” said Pribyl.
She said Camden’s government historically has shown little interest in downtown.
“The [original] comprehensive plan for Camden did not have a chapter on the downtown,” she said, adding that a group met to draft one that was incorporated into the plan.
“What we don’t want to be is the hole in the doughnut between Belfast and Rockland,” she said.
Pribyl pointed to Camden’s strengths of its scenic working harbor, Bay Chamber Concert series, the Snow Bowl and national toboggan championships, and the weekend conferences, such as the recent Maine Literary Festival, which drew national attention, the Pop Tech and Camden Conference as a way to fill that hole.