PORTLAND, Maine — A Portland Buy Local office opening at 306 Congress St. on Feb. 26 will be a visible new home for the organization established in 2006.
The 10:30 a.m. ribbon cutting will feature remarks by Mayor Michael Brennan, Coffee by Design owner Mary Allen Lindemann and Maine Surfer’s Union owner Charlie Fox.
“Any organization that does a lot of education early on, just like a business, needs to realize there are customers who are just arriving and not heard the message yet,” Portmanteau owner Nancy Lawrence said Monday.
Lawrence has owned Portmanteau, where she makes and sells clothing and accessories, at varied Old Port locations for 35 years. She and Lindemann are among the Buy Local co-founders.
“You need to repeat, to talk about nuts and bolts, to give the ‘why’ to shopping with independents and the deep economics of why that works,” Lawrence said.
From its initial 20 members, Portland Buy Local has expanded to more than 450 independently owned businesses spread across the city.
Debra Tenenbaum of Front Porch Public Relations is an organization board member who said the new office is one of the first steps needed to grow Portland Buy Local into its second decade.
“[We needed to] kind of grow up as an organization,” Tenenbaum said.
To facilitate the growth, two surveys were circulated to members, one created by the organization, one by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has a Portland office at 142 High St. where “Big Box Swindle” author Stacy Mitchell works.
Responses revealed members face similar pressures, including the cost of health insurance, rising lease and rental rates, competition from national chains and big-box stores, and worries about city cleanups after snowstorms.
“The Buy Local survey confirms a lot of things we have heard.” Tenenbaum said. “There are a lot more people collaborating, but there is that fear: how long can we keep it going?”
Buy Local Ambassador Thalassa Raasch, the organization’s first paid employee, said Buy Local members must be based in the city, have no more than 10 outlets (all in the state), and the majority of owners living within 50 miles of the city, with full authority on business decisions.
Jason Wentworth, owner of Portland’s Greener Cleaner on Fox Street and Washboard Eco-Laundry on Danforth Street, said membership gives him more visibility, and opens his eyes to other independent businesses he can support and owners he can network with.
“It can sometimes feel kind of lonely, it is not always easy to have opportunities to exchange with people who are in a similar structure,” he said.
Wentworth operates Portland’s Greener Cleaner with Sandrine Chabert. His cleaning services are rooted in sustainability and environmental stewardship, offering cleaning without chemicals used in the dry cleaning process.
His Fox Street location was a riskier choice, he said, in part as it is close to more industrial businesses and zoned for light industrial uses.
The stretch of Fox Street heading toward Munjoy Hill is developing, and Wentworth said he is gaining more customers who have seen his shop as they drive by.
“But I think a lot of people in Portland are not aware of what is going on,” he added.
Lawrence said staying in the Old Port has been beneficial, but at times, she has found it hard to pay lease rates to owners who may have bought buildings during boom times.
“I am very happily ensconced in a building with landlords who have had businesses in the Old Port and have been in the area long enough to have some understanding,” she said.
She said municipal planning should be promoting practices that can help independent business owners thrive.
“It should really just be written on their souls,” Lawrence said.