BANGOR, Maine — Turns out, the hula hoop is not all that tricky to master.
“Hold it up against your back and give it a good, hard spin,” said Kelly Tingley, maker of Hardcore Hoops, coaching a skeptical middle-aged shopper. “After that, you just rock back and forth to keep it going.”
And sure enough, the big, bright-colored plastic hoop hovers at waist level, swirling around the swaying torso of the pleased potential customer.
Tingley, who lives in Bangor, was one of a handful of micro-scale entrepreneurs displaying their products and services on Saturday at the one-day Maine Marketplace inside the Bangor Mall. Organized and hosted by the federally funded Incubator Without Walls program, the event provided an opportunity for local small business owners to “get out and market their wares,” according to Jim Macomber, who offers the program through his own business, MaineStream Finance.
The business program has been available for about six years, offering free consultations, trainings, workshops and start-up loans to budding businesses. Even owners of existing enterprises can learn something about business plans, marketing and bookkeeping, Macomber said.
“I don’t care where you are in the process; we can help you,” he said.
Tingley’s user-friendly weighted hula hoops were perhaps the most exciting offering at the market, inspiring a number of passers-by to hang up their inhibitions and give the hoops a whirl. Tingley said “hooping” provides a great aerobic workout while strengthening core muscles and building coordination. Also, it is fun.
Other tables provided an array of products, ranging from baked goods to bookkeeping services. Amy Rouse of Brownville Junction showed off her hand-painted glassware — champagne flutes rippled with multicolored swirls, tiny glittering fish swimming along the sloping sides of sea-colored martini glasses, flower vases patterned with the deep-toned geometry of stained glass. The name of her business is Glass Paradox. All the objects are “functional,” Rouse said, meaning they can be used for food and beverages. The paints are nontoxic, bonded to the glass and sealed to prevent chipping. She markets her products in oceanside communities from Key West to Laguna Beach. Closer to home, her glassware is available in boutique shops in southern Maine.
”It doesn’t seem to have found a fit in Bangor,” she said, “but new shops are opening all the time.”
At the next booth, Donna Mionis presided over a tottering table full of homemade breads and rolls baked at her Daily Bread bakery in Levant. Fragrant spinach-and-cheddar, molassas Anadama, and comforting cinnamon-raisin are among her most popular breads, all mixed and baked by Mionis herself, her husband and their six kids. “This is really a family business,” she said.
The 5-year-old bakery has a growing presence in local shops and farmers markets and has just scored an important contract with four Shaw’s supermarkets in the central part of Maine. “That’s a really big step,” Mionis said.
Sheila Grant of Parkman was there to market her new book, “50 Great New England Family Fishing Vacations,” published last month by North Country Press in Unity. The book identifies great fishing destinations, accompanied by all the other things there are to do within a 30-mile radius, she said, including golf courses, zoos, museums and other family-friendly attractions.
“When one person in the family is really enthusiastic about fishing, it can be hard to plan a vacation that includes everyone in the family,” she said. “Nothing sinks a vacation faster than bored kids or an angry spouse.”
Bookkeeper Kate Stein of Bangor had nearly 30 years of experience before starting her own business, The Bottom Line, about six years ago. Although she does work for some larger and more established concerns, including the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, Stein, who lives in Bangor, specializes in helping sole proprietors and small businesses.
“Many people don’t understand that you don’t actually have to hire a bookkeeper,” she said. After a free initial consultation, Stein charges $35 an hour to do whatever business owners want, from complete weekly bookkeeping services to showing them how to set up and use their own computer-based system.
Amie and Robert Kennedy of Blue Willow Primatives were surrounded by faux antiques ranging from wooly little sheep for displaying on shelves or windowsills to full-sized furnishings such as a pie safe from the 1800s and a high-backed hearthside “settle bench” for keeping the droughts off in a chilly house. The Chelsea couple make all the items themselves, developing their dream business while working at their day jobs and looking after a busy 4-year-old.
“[Amie] will find something she likes in an antique shop and we’ll just draw it up and take it from there,” Robert Kennedy said.
The Traveling Chef is JoAnn Brown of Bangor, who left a career in human resource management and higher education to pursue her dream of running a catering business.
“I can do people’s grocery shopping and menu planning,” she said. “I can cook right in their kitchen or deliver prepared meals to their home.” While she specializes in the “Down East comfort foods” she learned from her mother and grandmother, Brown loves a culinary challenge and recently catered a German-themed banquet for the Bangor Symphony.
“I had never heard of some of the foods they wanted on the menu,” she said, but the dinner was a success.
Two sisters from Dover-Foxcroft co-own Sister X Two, a yarn shop and scrapbooking business they currently run out of their home. Dorothy Williams and Nora Dow not only sell yarns and needles, pattern books and scrapbooking materials, they teach others how to knit and crochet, and even to tat. Tatting is the painstaking and largely forgotten process used in making handmade lace to decorate everything from handkerchiefs to wedding dresses.
The 2-year-old business isn’t making money yet, but the sisters plan to move their shop into downtown Dover-Foxcroft soon.
“Hopefully, when we get to town, business will be better,” Nora Dow said.
Cindi Ressler uses her digital camera to capture scenes of nature.
“Mostly in my backyard,” she said. Two blue-and-brown cowbirds balance on an iron fence.
Lupine blossoms stretch toward a misty sky. She uses the images to create refrigerator door magnets and greeting cards, and also frames them as the works of art they are. She sells the items at craft fairs and other outlets.
Ressler used to work as a manager for a national pet care retailer, a job she said was highly stressful.
“I’m not really making enough yet to support myself,” she admitted. “I am lucky that my family helps keep me doing what I love.”
Jim Macomber said the Incubator Without Walls program has helped a number of would-be entrepreneurs turn their business dreams into modest realities. Especially in Maine’s fragile economic environment, he said, people are becoming more willing to explore alternatives to traditional employment.
“They come to us and say ‘I’ve got this hobby; can I turn it into a business?’ Even if someone just has a rough concept of what they might like to do, we can work with them.”
For information about the Incubator Without Walls program in the Bangor area, visit the website of MaineStream Finance or call Jim Macomber at 800-215-4942, ext. 2476.