BUCKSPORT — A group working to promote downtown Bucksport got a shot in the arm Thursday evening when the Town Council approved funding for a program that will allow shops to temporarily open during the holiday season.
The group, which calls itself Main Street Bucksport, has taken over the job of organizing the “pop-up shop” program. That program was started last year by David Milan, who at the time was the town’s economic development director.
After Milan stepped down last summer and took a similar job in Orono, the Main Street group took over running the program.
Its members include Brook Ewing Minner (executive director of the Alamo Theatre), her husband Mark Eastman (owner of Ocean’s Edge Realty), Roxanne Jobe (manager of the local Bangor Savings Bank) and John Paul LaLonde (owner of a lawn care business).
At an Oct. 29 meeting, the Council authorized the group to spend up to $6,600 from the town’s economic development funds for the pop-up shops.
Owners of five empty storefronts have agreed to let businesses use their retail spaces. In return, they’ll receive $250 per space to cover December’s heating and utility costs, Minner informed the Council.
The bulk of the program’s funds will go to marketing, including $5,000 to air a commercial on local television stations.
When it started last year, the goal of the program was to draw more shoppers to downtown Bucksport, while also giving landlords and potential renters a taste of the business opportunity here.
While the group is still searching for shop operaters, Waldo County artist Sonja Twombly, who participated last year, has again committed to organizing a pop-up shop that will sell the work of area craftspeople.
Before the council voted to approve the $6,600, Councilor Glenn Findlay said he supported the idea, but believed the businesses should be responsible for paying some of the rent in the commercial spaces.
In response, Minner said that Twombly would be paying the rent at a rate worked out with the owner of her pop-up space, but that first-time shops would have their rent waived.
According to Minner, the members of Main Street Bucksport eventually hope to make their group a nonprofit organization that will play a more central role in local redevelopment.
Such conversations aren’t new, but they’ve taken on new urgency after Verso Paper Corp. closed the paper mill last December. The mill’s new owner, AIM Development, is close to demolishing the structure, but hasn’t announced redevelopment plans for the site.
The town has interviewed five candidates for the economic development position once filled by Milan.
According to Town Clerk Kathy Downes, who’s on the selection committee, committee members have chosen a candidate to recommend to the council at its Nov. 12 meeting. Downes would not identify the candidate, but said it’s a person from the area.
It’s not clear how the council will vote on the matter. In the Nov. 3 election, three council seats are up for a vote, and ten candidates are in the race.
Regardless of the outcome, groups such as Main Street Bucksport are forging ahead. They’ll be holding a fundraising event at the Alamo Theatre Dec. 3, in which several craftspeople and creators will speak about their disciplines in a rapid fire format known as PechaKucha.
Also on Oct. 29, the council approved the town’s participation in a program run by the Orton Family Foundation, which provides resources to communities that are trying to collect more input from their citizens.
The council hasn’t approved any funds for that program, but in their resolve, they’ve directed anyone hired as economic development director to coordinate the project.