BIDDEFORD/SACO — Small businesses in Biddeford and Saco say they have much to offer local shoppers, and that shopping local is a great way customers can support their communities.

Small Business Saturday, which follows Black Friday each year, has recently become a national day of recognition for the entrepreneurs who choose to conduct their business in their community. Among the benefits of shopping local is convenience, according to Jeannine Jarry, owner of Party Castles at 473 Elm St. in Biddeford.

“If you didn’t have a party store in Biddeford, then you’d have to go to Portland or Portsmouth for the products and services I offer,” said Jarry.

Party Castles carries supplies for all sorts of events, from birthdays and weddings, to other special occasions, like baby and bridal showers and bachelorette parties. Jarry started working there as manager when the store opened under a different owner in 1985. From the beginning, she was responsible for setting up vendors and finding suppliers, so it only made sense to buy the store when it came available for purchase in 1993.

Jarry says in addition to the traditional party supplies, she also carries items for sports-themed parties and has a stock of items particularly geared toward her local clientele.

“We carry local school colors year-round, so when they’re celebrating things at school, we have it. We know our community, and we try to offer what they are looking for,” she said, adding that a significant percentage of the money that comes into her business stays in the community.

Grady Sexton, who owns the family-run business Grady’s TV and Satellite on the corner of Main and Alfred streets, says he appreciates local support and tries to pay it forward in his community.

“My son and I both live here in Biddeford. We pay Biddeford taxes. We go to Biddeford businesses to buy the products we need. We try to buy everything local,” said Sexton.

Grady’s TV and Satellite has been a staple in the York County community for 38 years, starting in March of 1976, shortly after Sexton left the service. He discovered working with electronics in high school and continued to do so during his nearly 10 years in the military. He was with a local company doing electrical work when he suddenly decided to use his talent to start his own business. He and his wife had just $500 in their bank account, and he withdrew $450 before calling his wife to tell her the news.

“I called my wife and told her I quit my job and started a business. She said, ”˜How can you do that? We only have $500 in the bank.’ I said, ”˜Actually we only have $50 in the bank.’”

Sexton started with CB radios, which were a hot-ticket item at the time. Over the years, he managed to stay ahead of electronics trends, eventually adding televisions and satellite dishes. His son does the installations, and his wife handles the bookkeeping. They service everything they sell and recently added a line of surveillance products.

“We carry the largest amount of TVs of any TV dealer in southern Maine,” said Sexton. “The secret of our success is very simple: We do what the big-box stores can’t do, and that’s customer service.

“During Christmas, 90 percent of our sales are referrals from satisfied customers.”

Personal service, unlike anything a customer can receive from a national chain retailer, is a common theme heard from the owners of small businesses.

When Peter Mourmouras purchased Saco Bay Tackle 10 years ago, the fisherman figured he had found his dream job ”“ one where he could talk about fishing with people who shared his passion for the sport.

His shop, which is located on Route 1 in Saco, across from Aquaboggan Water Park, caters to regional fishing, from the freshwater lakes of the Sebago Lakes Region, to the offshore and deep-water ocean fishing. Mourmouras says, contrary to popular belief, he is able to offer competitive prices compared to chain stores, but what sets his business apart is the service he’s able to provide to his customers, because of his expertise in the sport of fishing. He enjoys helping people expand their experience by offering his advice so they might be willing to try new things, he said.

“We try to offer a little bit of knowledge. If they want to go out 10-15 miles offshore, we try to get them the right gear so they’re prepared. That’s the fun part ”“ seeing people who started out in a lake, then they go up the Saco River and start to venture out a little more,” he said, adding that people like to share with him, too. “The entire store is covered in photographs of people with their first catch or showing us what they’ve done with the equipment they purchased from us.”

Mourmouras says his clientele comes from all over New England for a bit of advice, or, sometimes, just to stop in and say hello to the store’s mascot ”“ his dog. He enjoys all of the visits, though, saying that the repeat business is what helps him have a personal relationship with his customers.

“We know 80 percent of the clientele who comes in the shop. We’re pretty proud of the fact that we get people who come back.”

However, there is a down side to running his own business, Mourmouras said.

“The downfall is that you’re limited in the amount of time you personally have to go out and fish,” he said.

Becky DiPietro and her mom, Sherry Dobson, started their business after 25 years of dreaming together. They’re celebrating their third year in the retail gifts business as Becky’s Boutique this month.

“From the time I was growing up, we enjoyed going out. We just both have a gift of finding great products at really good prices, so we can pass that along to our customers,” said DiPietro.

For a while, the mother daughter pair had a regular spot at a local flea market, but one day, DiPietro found an ad for a small shop space to rent ”“ now their location at 307 Main St. in Saco.

“I saw this little building for rent. It used to be a carriage house, a little, old-fashioned country building, and I just said, ”˜Mom, do you want to go for it?’ We saw it on a Thursday, and by that weekend, we knew we had the building. Within a month, we were ready to open. We had been collecting things over the years that we loved,” said DiPietro.

Becky’s Boutique offers locally made items, Willow Tree angels and Stonewall Kitchen products, along with a variety of one-of-a-kind items that make unique gift options. Beyond their products, though, DiPietro says they offer free coffee, a smile and friendly conversation.

“It’s a nice time to talk to people. People just need a little encouragement sometimes, and that’s what we offer,” she said.

Basically, DiPietro says, when people support small businesses, they are supporting the dreams of people just like themselves.

“Without our family and friends and people who come in every week, we wouldn’t make it. Just to have someone come in and spend a few dollars, they don’t know what that means, because we struggle. That just means so much to us,” said DiPietro.

— Monica Pettengill Jerkins is a freelance writer for the Journal Tribune.

        Comments are not available on this story.

        filed under: