BANGOR, Maine — While there’s little doubt that the national and regional economies are hurting, the current recession seems to have had little effect on the home front: specifically the 41st annual Bangor Home Show.
Near-record crowds filed into the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to meet vendors, learn about services and check out new products at 296 booths operated by 231 businesses.
“We had 7,700 people come in Saturday, and our one-day record is 7,880 [in 2008],” said show director Dean Appleman, owner of All Seasons Promotions. “All told, we had 18,186 for the weekend, and our three-day record is 21,200, which we had in 2007.”
Not bad for a show that started out with 36 businesses and 51 booths more than four decades ago.
“We have an 85 percent retention rate with our businesses, and we have four vendors who have been in each of the 41 shows,” said Appleman, who took over the show from his father, show founder Al Appleman. “I can’t sell another square inch here. If I did, I’d have trouble with the fire marshal.”
Appleman puts on two shows in Maine, this one and another in Portland.
“Bangor outdraws Portland every year,” he said. “We have about a three-hour radius in terms of areas we lure people from. Most other places that have home shows in New England work with about a 30-mile radius.
“And most shows in New England are down 20-30 percent this year, but we’ve been flirting with some record numbers.”
That’s impressive, considering many of the participating businesses offer some fairly expensive services and big-ticket products such as homes, lumber, foundations, flooring, heating systems and lawn equipment.
“About the only way the economy has affected us is some companies that rent four booths have cut down to two and some that have two can only afford one, but that’s allowed me to open more space to other companies who’ve been wanting to get in,” Appleman said. “And that gives consumers who come to this a chance to see more products and businesses.”
It’s hard to imagine much more variety, as everything from pest extermination to pet services, stoves to stone, Worcester Blueberries to Blueberry Broadcasting, flowers to tractors, and the ultimate hose nozzle to basement waterproofing was showcased.
“The variety is the draw for this show. We have thousands of products and services displayed or offered here,” Appleman said.
There’s even food, from organic bread by Daily Bread bakery of Levant to homemade fudge (Nelson’s Candies), beef jerky (The Jerky Hut) and even Worcester Blueberries.
Bob Wilson is an outside sales representative for Overhead Door Co. of Bangor and has worked the show for the past eight years, but he’s not there just to work.
“We look forward to this every year. We probably get 30 to 40 sales out of it in a good year,” Wilson said. “I really enjoy this, and not just because of our business. I get a lot of ideas for the home. As a matter of fact, my wife is waiting for me right now to go around and check everything out.”
Dena Baker, owner of To the Queen’s Taste, came all the way up from Boston to showcase her British specialty desserts.
“I sell a lot of treats to the public, but a lot of the vendors buy things from me because they’re here all day and they drink a lot of coffee,” said Baker, who bills her treats as “pastries to read English mysteries by” and will ship her products anywhere. “This is a great way to promote my products.”
The most popular draws at the show were businesses promoting energy-saving products and services, such as Heatkeepers, a division of R.H. Foster in Bangor.
“We look at everything from the furnace to lighting to the old refrigerator in the garage. If there’s an energy-saving opportunity, we find it,” said Kevin White, Heatkeepers energy adviser. “Last year we tracked our sales that came from this show and it showed we had some real good success.
“I really wasn’t expecting a good turnout, but I think fuel prices are driving people to look for ways to save because it’s been steady all weekend. I’d say we’ve talked to a few dozen people about ways to conserve energy.”
Even businesses selling luxury items such as spas, pools and jacuzzis were reporting plenty of customer interaction and interest.
“The economy is definitely a factor. Instead of replacing their jacuzzis or whirlpools, owners do a lot of repairs when things are tight,” said Regina Clapper, office manager for Island Pool and Spa of Verona Island. “We’ve probably talked to a couple hundred people this weekend. We’ve been doing the show now for about 15 years and we definitely get some residual sales and a lot of good feedback from doing it.
“Usually May is a really good month for sales and I think this show has a part in that.”