With national chains closing up shop while Portland’s quirky downtown continues to thrive, supporters of independently owned businesses had many reasons to celebrate Tuesday night during the 4th annual Indie Biz Awards.

The party at Space Gallery in Portland marked the fifth year of the successful Portland Buy Local campaign, which is part of a growing national movement calling attention to the economic, social and cultural benefits of buying from vendors whose owners live in the same community.

This year’s awards were handed out in nine categories, after 1,500 votes were cast online.

Longfellow Books won the Soul of Portland award. The Portland Farmers Market snagged both the Environmental Hero award and the Business with No Front award. Silly’s Restaurant took home the Flavor of Portland award. Lucid Stage walked away with Portland’s Best Kept Secret award. Sebago Brewing Company won the Community Hero award. Coffee By Design nabbed the Global Hero award. Athlete’s Touch took home the Best New Business award. And Micucci Grocery & Wholesale Foods walked away with this year’s Portland Icon award.

Stuart Gersen, who co-owns Longfellow Books, said the impact from the Buy Local campaign is visible every day in the Monument Square store.

“It’s been a game changer,” Gersen told me.

He said he’s had many customers tell him they could get a particular book faster and cheaper through Amazon.com, but they’d rather buy it from Longfellow Books and keep their money circulating in the local community.

“Buy Local really connects with what we’re about,” Jonah Fertig of Local Sprouts Cooperative Cafe told me as he served up roasted delicata squash with apples, pears, blueberry maple syrup and goat cheese.

“The relationships to me are really key,” Fertig said. “When you’re buying from a corporation you don’t have that same level of trust.”

Other local eateries serving up tasty bites at the party were Pepperclub, Kamasouptra, El Rayo, Bam Bam Bakery, Dean’s Sweets and Y-Lime’s Gourmet. The party featured music from The Kenya Hall Band and the awards ceremony was emceed by Rachel Flehinger, who is with the Running with Scissors improv comedy troupe.

Susan Tran, who is president of the Portland Buy Local board and works for Tsunami Tattoo and Maine Public Broadcasting, said one sign of the organization’s growing strength is the number of larger companies that have joined in the last few years.

“We started out as very grassroots, small-business oriented,” Tran told me. “It wasn’t like we sought out the larger employers.”

This caused board member Stacy Mitchell (who literally wrote the book on the subject: “Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses”) to point out that “collectively the members of Portland Buy Local are the second-largest employer in Portland after Maine Med.”

Founding board member Nancy Lawrence, who owns Portmanteau, told me, “What was exciting for me was when the founders turned over and there’s all this new energy. They’re all really passionate people.”

Citizen board member Joan Leitzer moved to Portland from the New York suburbs 16 years ago and said she was attracted to the city because it didn’t look like an “Anywhere, USA” kind of town dominated by cookie-cutter strip malls and chain stores.

“To me it’s incredible to have the wealth of local independent entrepreneurs that makes Portland a one-of-a-kind place,” Leitzer told me. “We have these businesses and we need to support them.” 

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

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