Shoppers stroll in downtown Ellsworth on an unseasonably warm December evening. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY CYNDI WOOD

City becoming shopping destination, merchants say



ELLSWORTH — The word on Main Street is that Ellsworth is transforming into a destination, with holiday shoppers in search of unique and local gifts heading downtown to shop, chat and spend, and dine at local restaurants.

“Best year evah!” Bud Connection owner Barbara Courchesne said. “[It] was pretty incredible.”

The dollars flowed, downtown business owners say, with more customers and individual purchases larger than ever. Hot holiday items included ornaments, Christmas-themed pajamas, socks, wine, books and local products.

“Our locally made hot cocoa bombs were a huge hit,” Courchesne said, while Toko co-owner Linda van der Does noted, “Anything that made people laugh was popular. If they giggled, they thought of someone who would, too.”

Toko did extremely well this year, van der Does said, which she attributes to an in-store preview of Toko Kids, which will open across the street this year in the Beals building, and out-of-town shoppers.

“We learned early on that Ellsworth is so much bigger than Ellsworth,” she said. “Now I feel like we’re no longer that drive-through on Route 1 and more of a destination … Now people come for the purpose of shopping.”

“Everything’s hot at Christmastime,” Union River Book & Toy Co. owner Michael Curtis said, noting holiday sales were up about 8 percent. “Not a huge increase and basically because of inflation. But the year overall was good. I heard people say they hadn’t been [in Ellsworth] in a long time.”

Lucky four-year-old Anella Rawcliffe of Winterport finds the Christmas pickle — and the free gift that came with it — at Bliss. Participating stores hid the pickle inside a store each week of the holiday shopping season. – PHOTO COURTESEY OF SUSAN NORDMAN

At Bliss, which offers gifts and personal care products, holiday sales were up 30 percent over last year, co-owner Susan Nordman said.

“And instead of having an average ticket sale of about $48, our average was closer to $100. So, people were definitely spending,” she noted. “We pulled a lot of people from Brewer and Blue Hill. One comment [was], ‘This is great! We don’t have to go to Belfast anymore.’ I thought, yup, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Some merchants noted that unlike 2020, the sales increase wasn’t only from people who had summer homes and stayed as the pandemic raged last winter. This holiday season, store owners also saw new residents.

“I was anticipating that this year would be less [sales than in 2020] because those people left,” Rooster Brother co-owner Pamela Elias said. “But apparently they did not … I feel like there was a lot of people I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if they were coming from Bangor or [were] new people living here.”

Sales were up over 2020, she added, although not quite to the level that 2020 sales surpassed those in 2019. Like Nordman noted, individual sales were higher than usual at Rooster Brother, too.

“The customers seemed to be willing to spend more money,” Elias said, noting as one example that the average wine sale was up. “There seems to be a different customer here, not just the same customer spending more.”

Leslie Harlow, owner of 207Mainer, which recently opened inside Trio with One Woman Studio and Yikes Studio Jewelry, said the move made it hard to judge sales this year. But the customers came from Camden to Bangor to Houlton — and even a couple from Singapore who wanted to experience a New England winter.

“For people who like boutique-style shopping and more personalized service, Ellsworth is now on the radar of having enough shops to make coming here worthwhile,” she said.

At Elizabeth’s Fine Goods, there was “just a ton of people in and a lot of action,” owner Elizabeth Hilts reported. “We just sold everything. And people were very happy to be downtown. It was obvious.”

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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