Portland shoppers hit a holiday trifecta Saturday, turning out in droves to make headway on their gift lists, support local businesses and contribute to a worthy charity.

Retailers in the city’s Old Port said early sales were brisk as this year’s Shop for a Cause event got underway. Shoppers wearing bright orange stickers and carrying bright orange tote bags strolled the sidewalks, occasionally meeting a roving band of Christmas carolers from the Portland Community Chorus.

“It’s been pretty busy so far,” said Josh Haskell, manager at the Salt Cellar. “I think it’s a good indicator that it’s going to be a successful season.”

Andy Stewart, co-owner of Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine, said he noticed business pick up shortly after 10 a.m., when the shop-local event officially got underway. “It was a little slow to start, but it has picked up,” Stewart said.

With temperatures expected to touch 50 degrees, it was an ideal day for the event organized by Portland Downtown, a group of downtown business owners, property owners and residents.

Portland Downtown’s Shop for a Cause coincides with Small Business Saturday, when people throughout the country are encouraged to shop at local businesses. Launched in 2010, Small Business Saturday falls in between Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year for large retailers, and Cyber Monday, when online retailers offer large discounts.

More than 71 million people across the country were expected to shop at small retailers Saturday, according to the National Retail Federation. Nearly 80 percent of those shoppers say they do so specifically to support small businesses.

Curtis Picard, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Association of Maine, said it’s too soon to tell how merchants statewide are faring, but he noted that people are spending more money at local stores on this day every year. “It’s really been great to see it grow year after year,” Picard said. “It’s become its own thing, much like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become. The awareness of the day among customers has really grown and it’s something they look forward to.”

Nearly 50 businesses participated in this year’s Shop for a Cause event, ranging from retailers to restaurants and coffee shops to smoke shops. All of them plan to donate a portion of their sales to this year’s beneficiary, Amistad, a Portland nonprofit that helps people struggling with substance abuse, homelessness or mental health issues.

The selection of Amistad comes as Mainers become increasingly concerned with the opioid epidemic, as well as untreated mental illness on the streets of Maine’s largest city, said the event organizers. The nonprofit relies heavily on federal grants, known as Community Development Block Grants, to fund programs like its peer coaching initiative, which enlists addicts in recovery to help those currently struggling with the illness.

After a steady decline in funding, the CDBG program has been eyed for cuts under the Trump administration. And last year, Amistad nearly missed out on $60,000 in critical funding to support its peer coaching program because of the number of area nonprofits competing for a shrinking pool of funding. But city officials found funding elsewhere.

Amistad Executive Director Brian Townsend said being selected as this year’s beneficiary will put a much-needed spotlight on his organization, which does not have any formal fundraising or marketing campaigns. Part of that work involves reaching out to people who are living on the streets and dealing with homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.

“It calls attention to those issues and that’s the biggest thing for us,” Townsend said. “And I think we’re beginning to make the turn on those issues.”

Last year’s Shop for a Cause event raised $10,500 for the Milestone Foundation, a nonprofit that addresses addiction and homelessness. That sum included a $2,500 donation from sponsor Machias Savings Bank. In 2015, $8,000 was raised for Preble Street, a nonprofit social service agency that operates a day shelter and a soup kitchen.

Portland Downtown’s marketing coordinator, Adam MacDonald, said he hopes to see the upward trend in the number of small businesses participating and the amounts raised for charities continue.

“We’re very optimistic that we’re going to raise a ton of money and awareness for Amistad,” MacDonald said.


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