ELLSWORTH — Brian Langley has always been a believer in Ellsworth. Challenging times have only made that belief stronger.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has been difficult worldwide, but for a city that thrives on tourism during the summer months, the economic impact has been particularly severe. Coming out of mandated shutdowns and stay-at-home orders and with the general public unease regarding large gatherings, the summer of 2020 has taken on a different look.
Yet Langley, owner of Union River Lobster Pot, has seen those in the Ellsworth community come together more than ever to help one another during the troubles and uncertainties. Wanting to do his part to help, he launched a fundraiser that recognizes the resiliency of the city’s residents.
Langley raised roughly $2,000 for the city of Ellsworth through a sale of “ELLSWORTHY” T-shirts that began June 23 and concluded last Sunday. The money will be directed toward a citywide initiative aimed at helping local businesses thrive as the pandemic continues.
“It’s just a little something I thought we could do to really help people,” Langley said. “You have so many people who live, sleep and breathe Ellsworth, and it’s cause to help them out and be able to keep the business community here alive.”
Langley first made “ELLSWORTHY” T-shirts in 2016 on behalf of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce. The slogan was a fitting moniker for the chamber’s Top Drawer and Citizen of the Year recipients.
As 2020 began, Langley had the intention of distributing the T-shirts to more community members he felt were deserving of recognition. With the pandemic depriving an Ellsworth High School senior class that included his grandson, Itsuki, of formal graduation ceremonies as well as their final proms and spring sports season, he gave shirts to all 116 members of this year’s graduating class as a parting gift.
“Those kids got robbed,” Langley said. “They lost so many of those things, and they deserve recognition. I thought it was a good way to say, ‘Congratulations on having survived.’ Those kids really are the best Ellsworth has to offer.”
After producing and distributing 116 T-shirts, Langley knew he was capable of doing more. As a result, he created an online store to sell “ELLSWORTHY” shirts, hats and sweatshirts to provide the city with a little extra financial boost.
Soon, people locally and across the country began buying the sloganed apparel. On the first day of sales alone, the fundraiser collected more than $700 in revenue.
“We put it out there, and people started buying the stuff right away,” Langley said. “My son in Michigan bought one, and we’ve made sales as far away as Texas. People everywhere were buying them.”
The money, City Economic Development Director Janna Richards said, could be used to help businesses deal with some of the added expenses that have come about as a result of new guidelines and precautionary measures. Between sanitizer, masks and plexiglass shields, business upkeep in the era of COVID-19 doesn’t come cheap.
Another possibility both Richards and Langley have raised is an initiative aimed at getting people from other parts of the state to visit Ellsworth. With far fewer out-of-state visitors flocking to the tourism destinations this year, the time is ripe for Mainers to experience their own state.
“For the time Brian and I were talking, there was a thinking of how we would advertise this to Mainers,” Richards said. “It could just be an advertisement of things to do in Ellsworth and places to go, or it could be an interchange where you can have incentive to travel within the state.”
A specific plan, Richards said, has not been finalized just yet. Whatever it is, though, has the chance to spark a community in which Langley has seen residents come through for another during a time of need.
“Every day, I see hardworking people who are proud to be from Ellsworth,” Langley said. “It’s a great community, and that’s why the slogan on the T-shirts comes to fruition almost every day around here.”