The Raymond Revitalization Committee, a newly formed group of citizens and businesspeople seeking to breathe new life into the mile-long Route 302 commercial strip, has released results from a survey that will help focus its mission.

Final results of a survey taken by the Raymond Revitalization Committee show that 97 percent of respondents prefer to expand the town’s leisure and hospitality sector. Retail and wholesale operations were second at 58 percent.

“We will use these results in developing a comprehensive plan; it’ll help us decide which businesses to develop internally and which new ones to draw from outside Raymond,” said committee leader Wayne Holmquist. “We’re also very intent on nurturing Raymond’s existing home-based businesses.”

The grass-roots group, independent from town government, formed last winter after some residents became concerned that the commercial tax base was disappearing and the aging strip mall — the Raymond Shopping Center on Route 302 — had showed enduring vacancies.

The survey showed manufacturing as a third choice, and education and health services fourth.

Holmquist said youth and student sector responses were consistent with overall results. More responses were received from home-based businesses than downtown businesses.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents were fully employed, while about 14 percent listed their status as unemployed or retired. Others did not respond to the employment question.

Raymond businesses already tied to leisure and hospitality, the strongest response sector in the survey, report slow but continued growth coming out of the recession. Mark Libby operates the White Pines Inn on Route 302 and says 2011 looks like a promising year.

Phil Michaud, owner of Panther Run Marina, said 2010 was better than 2009 and he’s optimistic for this year. But both business owners are uneasy about the wild-card effect of gas prices.

“I think part of (a revitalization), for Raymond, is trying to do something with our older storefronts and buildings,” Michaud said. “There’s plenty of vacant space in the plaza, but that may not be attractive to what Raymond needs or would like to see.”

As a success story, Michaud said Speedy Gas, which has a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through and occupies the same tarmac as The Raymond Shopping Center, has been quite successful. “That’s a little gold mine,” he said. “Anytime you go in and talk to the owner he’s smiling, and there’s probably a good reason for it. The building looks very good for a gas station.”

Michaud notes The Good Life Market is another attractive building that’s turned out to be a success story. The same can be said for The Mosquito, a popular summertime ice cream stop.

But are these success stories largely seasonal in nature and quick stop-offs for the motoring public? Bill Darling, owner of Gulf of Maine Gunsmithing on Route 302, says Raymond is a “pass-through” and “will never be a destination.” While some in the revitalization committee see Raymond’s seasonal quality as a strength, Darling sees it as a handicap.

“Raymond is a ghost town nine months of the year and bustling for three months,” he said. “Business for me has been about the same since I opened in 1992. I’m one of the oldest businesses here because many fail and move on.

“Again, it’s a pass-through. If people need something, they’ll stop here if they haven’t already got it in North Windham.”

The committee says a key revitalization effort is catering to residents’ needs, as well as to travelers on a busy thoroughfare. With survey results in, the committee is optimistic about the future. Responses to the section on leisure activities showed that both adult and student responders consistently prefer outdoor pursuits such as camping, swimming boating, hiking, walking and running.

Bowling, skiing, biking, kayaking, beach soccer, football and golf, followed by dance, snowmobiling, outdoor games, and exercising were also highlighted. Based on this information, committee members say a sporting goods store would be a good prospect to lure to town.

Art and culture choices receiving high marks included reading, writing, drawing, painting, crafts, cooking, and activities such as Wii, video, cards, cooking, or just spending time with family and friends.

Holmquist said that the survey results will be presented to committee members at an upcoming meeting. “We will begin to draw a short- and long-term plan at that time,” he said.

For more information, contact Wayne Holmquist at [email protected], or Sam Gifford at [email protected]

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]