HOULTON, Maine — For Janice Maxwell, Midnight Madness was the first big community event she had attended since moving to the community six months ago.
The mother of three and transplant from New York City brought her children to the annual shopping blitz in downtown Houlton on Saturday evening, hoping to introduce them to more people from the community and find merchandise to decorate their new home at the same time.
“When we got here, it was still winter,” Maxwell said, watching as her children looked at a display of pinwheels and glow-in-the-dark bracelets under a tent set up by a downtown store. “We were so busy getting settled that my husband and I didn’t get to take them too far. When I saw this in the newspaper, it seemed like the perfect activity for us.”
Sponsored by the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, Midnight Madness is held each year around the Fourth of July. This year’s fete marked the 24th time the event has been held in downtown Market Square.
During Midnight Madness, the town closes off Market Square to traffic and opens it to shoppers who jam downtown stores looking for bargains. Store owners open their doors after hours and set up tables and tents outside to offer even more merchandise to bargain hunters.
Shoppers also hit the outskirts of town for additional deals offered by merchants. To decrease traffic and parking congestion, a shuttle bus carries people from downtown to the North Street shopping area throughout the evening.
The deals get better as the night goes on, with shoppers finding the best bang for their buck as the clock moves closer to midnight.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of people flocked to the square early to participate in games, sample a wide variety of food and take in a concert by McGill’s Community Band. Musical performances continued throughout the evening as revelers in twinkling red, white and blue hats and neon necklaces danced, sang and shopped for everything from clothes and candles to pictures and pet supplies.
Mary Ann Collins of Presque Isle began her trip to the event by coming to town to meet family and friends for an early dinner. The former Houlton resident said Saturday that she has attended the event nearly every year since she was a child.
“It’s really kind of like a minireunion,” she said. “I always see a bunch of my classmates and meet people who have moved away from here but are back for the [Houlton Agricultural] Fair or for class reunions. I never miss this if I can help it.”
This year’s fete appeared to attract an even larger crowd of Houlton High School alumni, as the school’s Alumni Association is sponsoring a multiclass reunion July 4-10. Alumni activities began over the weekend and storefronts in the downtown were decorated with pictures of graduates and athletic teams from the various classes.
Maxwell, who was planning to take her children to the fair on Sunday, said she was enjoying her first Midnight Madness.
“There are numerous street fairs in New York, but none where you can really let your kids let go of you and look in store windows and dance to music and things,” she said. “I think all of us are really enjoying ourselves.”