ELLSWORTH — Between the pandemic, high unemployment numbers and the low-level anxiety that seems to pervade much of public and retail life, an excellent holiday shopping season may have been too much to ask for. As it turns out — and with help from a shop local initiative sponsored by the city and chamber of commerce and supported by community groups such as Heart of Ellsworth — it was not a big ask.
“So many people intentionally shopped local,” said Barbara Courchesne, owner of The Bud Connection on Main Street. “It made a difference, and we are very grateful.”
The biggest boost to the shopping season came at the end, small business owners said.
“We were really nervous because it started out pretty slow,” said Amanda Sohns, co-owner of The Rock & Art Shop. “But we really felt that at the end people started coming in. It was a lot of people who were regular customers; they wanted to make sure made it through till next year. We definitely felt the community support.”
Gretchen Wilson, executive director of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce, said “shop local” is a big chamber push every holiday shopping season but this year “it definitely rang true with a lot of people.”
Businesses staying open late on Thursday evenings, a Christmas pickle with prizes for the finder and an early online purchase deadline to guarantee Christmas delivery all helped, Wilson said.
“I heard that for the month of November it was pretty light pretty much across the board,” she said. “And then it was a slow but steady increase to the point where I think there was a lot of local shopping in mid-December — and after the holiday.”
For shops that carry an assortment of gift items, from socks to soap to fine clothing and novelty items, the season went very, very well, according to store owners and employees.
“The season was amazing,” said Poppy & Polka Dot owner Amanda Beals, who started initiatives such as a wish list people could fill out for friends and family members for custom gift-giving. “I think we tripled our sales from last year.”
The Dream Catcher also saw customers leading up to Dec. 25.
“It was busy before Christmas, but it’s been slower ever since,” owner Karen Sawyer said. But sales were not as good as the same time in 2019, she said, and at this time of year “it costs too much to keep the lights on.”
Main Street shop Toko saw more sales than during the summer tourist season, according to one employee. The hottest holiday gift item? Socks, she said. “We have some hilarious socks.”
Neighboring gift shop Elizabeth’s also had an excellent season.
“It was great,” owner Elizabeth Hiltz said. “I had a feeling it would be good, and it was. It was really good. Literally, we sold everything.”
Richard Parks Furniture Gallery on High Street has been “doing just fine,” owner Aaron Piacentini said. “The week before Christmas and after has been good, better than last year.” With people spending more time at home, furniture sales have risen, he noted, and “people are definitely shopping local and people are working to keep shops going.”
Chamber staff hope people will continue to shop local and have started “Spend $20 on the 20th” promotions for January, February and March, along with the traditional March Dine Around program that seeks to put local residents in local restaurant seats.