Sea Bags, the 16-year-old company that makes totes, bags and other accessories from recycled sailcloth, has been named Maine’s retailer of the year. The company’s headquarters, located on a rickety section of Custom House Wharf in Portland, belies the upscale activity within, where customers buy the one-of-a-kind products while sewing machines whir in the background.

The company has been on a diversification tear of late. Duffel bags for men, sophisticated evening clutches, and Halloween buckets – profiled in Forbes – have helped power the company into new revenue streams. As a socially responsible company, Sea Bags has partnered with the American Cancer Society to donate proceeds from its “Cure” collection, and supports a separate program that contributes dollars to help underprivileged children learn to sail.

The retailer of the year accolade, bestowed by the Retail Association of Maine, recognizes a retailer that excels in continued growth in employees or sales, commitment of company resources to community projects, and creation of a positive work environment for all employees.

“Sea Bags is a very deserving company; their pledge to continue production in Maine, sourcing materials locally, and sustainability are honorable values worthy of recognition,” association President Curtis Picard said before the Nov. 5 awards ceremony.

The association is also trumpeting its “Shop Second Saturday” – or S2S – campaign in which local stores offer special discounts and deals for shoppers who purchase on the second Saturday of the month. This Saturday, Nov. 14, nearly 70 Maine-based retailers are offering deals.

Keeping it down, low

Speaking of retail sales, ’tis the season. And shopkeepers are holding their breath that the Fed won’t raise interest rates during retail’s busiest time of year.

After intense speculation that the Fed would increase rates reflecting a more stable economy, it refused to do so at its October meeting. It meets again in December.

The federal funds rate, which hasn’t risen since December 2008, has major repercussions for retailers.

Though the federal funds rate is what banks charge each other for overnight borrowing, it is the basis for other interest rates that directly affect consumers. The prime interest rate, for example, is generally 3 percentage points above the fed funds rate and is the basis for the rate for home equity lines of credit and auto loans. Other rates, such as mortgages and Treasury securities, are also tied to the fed rate.

A rate hike could cut into holiday sales because it would have an impact on credit card interest rates, which is why historically the Fed has been reluctant to raise rates at its December meeting, said Mark Lieberman, a senior economist for Fox Business News.

Judicial genealogy

“Henry” is a powerhouse surname in Maine legal circles. The most recent example is the appointment of Douglas M. Henry as managing partner for Boston law firm Sherin and Lodgen LLP.

Henry grew up in Portland and graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where his dad, Merton G. Henry, was both an alumnus and chairman of the college’s board of trustees. The elder Henry is a renowned civic leader and attorney. He formerly served on the boards of Maine Medical Center, the Portland Museum of Art, the Maine Community Foundation and several other medical and educational institutions. His wife, the mother of Douglas, is the late Honorable Harriet P. Henry, Maine’s first woman judge.

Although he practices in Boston, Douglas Henry is on the board of trustees of the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation and the Welch Charitable Fund of the Maine Community Foundation.

Henry, who specializes in real estate law, will provide strategic leadership for the firm, which includes 40 lawyers specializing in real estate, litigation and business law. Additionally, he will continue to represent clients in a broad range of commercial real estate matters, with a particular focus on representing lenders in the financing of complex New Markets Tax Credit transactions and large solar arrays, according to a news release from the firm.

A retiring asset

A sad smile spread across my face last week when I saw a news release about the impending retirement of Roland Miller, longtime economic development director in Auburn.

A smile, because after 35 years at the helm he deserves to devote more time to fly-fishing (a favorite activity), but sad, because he takes with him an exhaustive memory of development initiatives – the successes and the failures – that have shaped Auburn since 1980.

He helped design the city’s zoning and policies that led to a revitalized Auburn Mall area (once listed on deadmalls.com), and also helped preserve the downtown’s unique architecture, develop its riverside amenities and pave the way for new hotels and industries.

“One thing that sets Roland apart from many economic development professionals is his motivation,” said Eric Cousens, Auburn’s deputy director of planning and development. “For Roland, it’s not about profit for himself or profit for just the individuals doing the project. He recognizes that people need to make money to keep doing projects, and what really motivates him is job creation and creating opportunity for others to better themselves.”

In 1980, when Miller started in the post, the city’s valuation was $358 million. Today, it’s $1.9 billion, a 430 percent increase, which is more than twice the U.S. increase in GDP over the same time.

Miller leaves his office at the end of the month, but his imprint on Auburn will remain long after.


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