Downtown Center reminds Mainers to buy local

Posted Nov. 24, 2010, at 7:16 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Does the day after Thanksgiving always need to be known as “Black Friday”? For Roxanne Eflin, program director for the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

“We look at Black Friday as Green Friday, and then Small Business Saturday,” she said this week, noting the importance of seasonal shopping to the sustainability of the centers of Maine’s small towns and cities. “We want to remind people that shopping isn’t just about low prices always. It’s about the experience, and memories and traditions. Shopping local makes good sense.”

Eflin’s organization has launched a seasonal campaign called “Take ME Downtown for the Holidays,” which aims to bring Mainers out to enjoy holiday events and, of course, shop and dine in locally owned businesses and restaurants. Promoting the economic health of the state’s communities is a major goal of the Maine Downtown Center, which works with 22 communities around the state through the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program.

Belfast is one of the newest Maine Downtown Network communities and is jumping into the spirit of the group’s holiday celebration with future events. Among them are visits from Santa, strolling carolers, free movie matinees at the Colonial Theatre, outside chestnut roasting and a tree lighting celebration at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at Belfast City Hall.

“I think the holiday season accounts for some massive percentage of retailers’ income,” said Michael Hurley, co-owner of the Colonial. “People always talk about buying American. Well, buy downtown in your community. These are the people underwriting things like Project Graduation. We are it. All of these shops in these small towns make huge contributions throughout the year.”

Eflin stressed the variety and quality of the goods that shoppers will find in the state’s downtown shops.

“We encourage people to try downtown first, if they’re looking for something,” she said. “Frankly, I think that a unique gift from downtown says so much more to people and to the receiver — that if you’ve taken the extra effort to go downtown, find the right merchant and find the perfect gift, it just says a lot.”

Marsha Donahue of Millinocket’s North Light Gallery said she is promoting Maine-made gifts to Maine seasonal shoppers, with all of her gallery’s offerings being made by local artisans.

“We’re just importing so much stuff,” the artist and merchant said. “It’s almost up to us to make the decision to push that back the other way and buy local.”

And it doesn’t take much to make a difference, she said.

“It just snowballs. If you get a half-dozen or a dozen people to buy here, the word begins to spread,” she said. “And certainly, if I had two dozen sales to locals between now and Christmas, it would make a significant difference to my holiday income and to the health of the store going into winter.”

Lorain Francis of Rockland Main Street Inc., said she thinks downtowns have something unique to offer shoppers.

“It’s nice strolling, you’re outside in a historic atmosphere, the shop windows are all decorated up beautifully,” she said. “You get that real community feel.”

She said there was a great moment recently when Santa Claus got off the trolley and told the waiting crowd that he had a “thousand hugs for everyone.”

“Kids swarmed him,” she said. “To see things like that happen — it’s just a great feeling.”

Coming events from Maine Downtown Coalition communities include:

• Van Buren — Annual Light Parade on Saturday, Dec. 4.

• Presque Isle — Holiday Light Parade at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, leaving from North Street and going through downtown.

• Rockland — Festival of Lights from Friday, Nov. 26, to Sunday, Nov. 28; the lobster trap tree lighting at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, at Mildred Merrill Park; and the Festival of Lights parade at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27, on Main Street.

• Belfast — Festive Holiday Gallery Walk with Penobscot Bay Carolers 5-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3. Santa visits the Light in the Forest studio on Church Street and sit for free photos with children 9-10:45 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 4. Early-bird shopping specials 6-9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, in all downtown shops.

For more events or information about Maine Downtown Center, visit its website.

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