March 15, 2010

Society Notebook: Leading the charge

Portland Greendrinks institutes a nominal cover to ease crowding – and finds it's also a great way to raise money for worthy nonprofits.

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer


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Leslie Rosa, Lacey Vassar and Morgan Kirkham.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Sarah Cushman, founder of Portland Green Streets, Elliott May, founder of Portland Greendrinks, and Jessie Baines, Portland Greendrinks board member.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

Additional Photos Below


IF YOU'RE LOOKING to party, network and support a good cause this week, check out:


SOUTH PORTLAND BUY LOCAL, 5 to 7 p.m., Snow Squall Restaurant, South Portland. Enjoy food from local eateries and a cash bar at the kick-off event of this group raising awareness about locally owned businesses. Free. 767-4243.


BALLYHOO, 5:30 to 9 p.m., Holiday Inn by the Bay, Portland. Fundraiser for Youth Alternatives Ingraham features eats from local restaurants and a live auction. $60.

BUSINESS AFTER HOURS, 5 to 7 p.m., Purpoodock Club, Cape Elizabeth. Portland Regional Chamber members get together for networking, food and a cash bar. Free to members/$15 nonmembers. 


PINK TIE BALL, 5:30 p.m., Holiday Inn by the Bay, Portland. Support the Susan G. Komen for the Cure fund at the ball featuring live music, auctions and food. $75.

MARION GRACE UNLEASHES THE MADNESS, 8 p.m., Port City Music Hall, Portland. After a cocktail hour, Madgirl World unveils a collection of streetwear fashions for men followed by performances from Marion Grace, Sly Chi and The Adam Ezra Group. $10 advance/$13 at door.


CHOCOLART, 2 to 5 p.m., Hilton Garden Inn, Auburn. Enjoy a variety of chocolates and raise money for SeniorsPlus. $35. 800-427-1241.




This story was updated to reflect a date change for the SOUTH PORTLAND BUY LOCAL event. The correct date is Tuesday, March 16th.


It was a tale of two parties, but I can only tell you about one.

If you've ever attended a Portland Greendrinks networking event, you know these get-togethers of eco-minded folks attract such a huge mass of people that it often becomes impossible to navigate through the crowd. The second anniversary Greendrinks party Tuesday night was no different.

Held at what used to be USM's Portland Hall dorm and is now a totally renovated and environmentally friendly apartment building called 645 Congress, the bash was spread between two empty retail spots on the ground floor. When I arrived at 5:30 p.m., I decided to scope out the space (which was already pretty packed) and see which breweries and beverage vendors were handing out free drinks. But I didn't make it far.

I got through the first retail space and into a connecting hallway, where I said hi to Nat May and Jon Courtney from Space Gallery, and they introduced Colin Culley, who plays banjo and dulcet for acoustic rock group The Toughcats. I then attempted to see what was happening in the other retail space. A couple steps through the door I ran into a few people I know, was introduced to some I hadn't met before (including Greendrinks board members Tom Marczak and Oakley Dyer) and saw a number of familiar faces across the room, before I came to the conclusion that pushing my way through the thicket of people wasn't going to be feasible.

So I headed back to the first party room, where there were tons of people to chat with and lots of free-flowing Sebago beer, Barefoot Wines and appetizers from Local Sprouts (which is in the process of opening a cafe in a third retail spot in the building). As a result I can't tell you about the speeches that took place, the beverages that were served (including Allagash, Peak's Organic, Maine Root and Maine Kombucha) or what people had to say in the other party room. All I know about is what went down in party room No. 1.

But I can tell you about Greendrinks and what the organization is doing to take advantage of it's wildly popular status. The international networking group formed a Portland chapter two years ago based on the hard work and extensive contacts of Elliott May, who works for Reverb. The first parties attracted a few dozen of us, but they quickly ballooned in size as word spread. (Free beer tends to do that.)

In February, the group didn't host its usual second Tuesday of the month party and instead gathered feedback from attendees on how to improve the events.

"We spent two years working to get as many people as possible to come and talk about environmental issues," May said. "We have that now and so we need to hone the events. We want to make sure we're doing it for the right reasons."

Translation: No one wants the networking parties to become nothing more than a booze-fueled pick-up scene.

To that end, the board decided to implement a cover charge ($2 if you brought a mug and $5 if you didn't) and connect partygoers with a different nonprofit at each event. This month low-impact transportation advocate Portland Green Streets was the featured nonprofit and as such it got the bulk of the cover charge. It worked with the League of Young Voters to set up an online survey about transportation choices that attendees could fill out during the party.

Sarah Cushman, who is the founder of Portland Green Streets, told me as the party was winding down that "it was great exposure. Considering it was an environmentally interested crowd, there were plenty of people who hadn't heard of Green Streets."

Of the $850 the nonprofit raised at the event, Cushman said "this will be our biggest fundraiser of the year."

While the thinking ahead of the event seemed to be that the cover charge would thin out the crowd, that didn't happen.

"People were giving $10 instead of $5," reported Emily Straubel, who helped greet people at the door. "It was very much a 'keep the change' kind of crowd."

The other thing I can tell you about is the apartment building. Outside the crush of party room No. 2, I had a chance to catch up with Greg Shinberg, who along with State Sen. Justin Alfond, developed the complex. Shinberg told me the 56-unit building is two-thirds rented, with most of the studios already snatched up. He gave me a quick tour, and I was impressed to see original wood floors, tubs and sinks in the sleek, modern units. Residents have access to bike storage, free wifi and a furnished studio apartment they can rent for $90 a day for overnight guests. Tenants get $75 off their rent if they don't need a parking spot.

It's features such as these that attract young professionals like Jack Woods to live in the building.

"I absolutely love it," Woods said. "Particularly the ease of access to the neighborhood."

As a Greendrinks fan, Woods said he was glad to see the cover charge and the involvement of a nonprofit. He wasn't alone.

"Here it feels like it's really directed toward an organization and an action we can take," said Jenna Vendil, who serves on the Portland School Committee. "The event itself is very focused on how everyday people can be sustainable on a day-to-day basis, such as bring your own glass."

"It was getting out of control," Chrisso Rheault said of the past events. "The earlier ones were smaller, and you could meet more people. Everyone's willing to chip in and support it."

And as Thomas Hillman told me, "two dollars is more than reasonable" for free drinks.

Which makes me think maybe they should charge $10?

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Eric Gordon, Leanne Krudner and Abbie Plimpton.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Kaylene Waindle, of Southern Maine Community College, Chrisso Rheault and Jenna Vendil, who serves on the Portland School Committee.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Kate Squire and Susan Pye.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Emily Marczak and Tom Marczak, who serves on the Portland Greendrinks board.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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The Sebago Brewing crew at Greendrinks included Bronwen Williamson, Ryan Fitch, Tom Abercrombie and Peter Dahlen.

Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer


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