OLD ORCHARD BEACH – For the second year, businesses in town have organized a New Year’s Eve celebration designed to promote Old Orchard Beach as more than just a summer destination.

First Night is an evening of activities on Dec. 31 to ring in the new year. Starting at 4:30 p.m., there will be a bonfire, marshmallow roasting pits and hot cocoa on the beach. Fireworks will be set off at 6:15 p.m. and again at midnight, and local venues will offer a variety of New Year’s Eve festivities.

This year, businesses will also offer “Button Perks” discounts for First Night button holders, from Sunday through Jan. 2.

Nine other events are scheduled for 2011 by OOB365, a volunteer organization of business owners and residents. The events are designed to attract people to the seaside town in months other than June, July and August, said the organization’s president, Linda Mailhot.

“There’s a large influx of people in town” when the events are held, said Mailhot, who owns Seacoast Resort. “It is a great excuse to get down and enjoy the beach.”

During the summer, Old Orchard Beach is flooded with tourists from other states and Canada. Visitors flock to the beach, the Palace Playland amusement park, businesses around The Pier and other spots throughout town.

After Labor Day, with the tourists gone, businesses that close put paper over their windows, leaving the town desolate for the winter.

Town Councilor Sharri MacDonald, whose family owns MacDonald’s Garage on Saco Avenue, said she is the fourth generation of her family to live and work in Old Orchard Beach. She said she hopes events like First Night will make the town more attractive to businesses and promote economic diversity in the area.

“But it is more than just businesses,” she said. “It’s about building community.”

OOB365, in its second year in operation, has a core group of 47 people from varied economic backgrounds volunteering their time, MacDonald said.

As they have worked together for a common cause, the organization has contributed to the community by raising $2,500 for the revitalization of the town’s ballpark and bringing 1,000 people to town for last year’s First Night event.

“This group is invigorating,” with its energy and positive attitude, MacDonald said.

About 200 businesses in Old Orchard Beach stay open year-round, MacDonald said.

Lisa’s Pizza, a long-standing business on Old Orchard Street, has stayed open year-round for at least the past 10 years, said its manager, John Murray.

While he appreciates the efforts of OOB365, Murray said he hasn’t noticed a significant change in his business during the winter, except for a one-hour surge during last year’s First Night.

“It’s tough down here, to try and have a year-round business. Not a lot of people want to walk in the cold,” so close to the ocean, Murray said.

A few customers shopped Thursday at Board Silly, a puzzle and game shop. Missy Shupe, the shop’s owner, is a member of OOB365 and has seen increased interest in the town, drawn by events that the organization sponsors.

“For the local residents, this is their home. It shouldn’t have to close because vacationers and customers have gone elsewhere,” said Shupe, who has been in business on Old Orchard Street for about six years. “(OOB365) is an exciting concept.”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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