Independent retailers in the Kennebunks, such as Fine Print Booksellers, are emphasizing online ordering, now that non-essential storefronts are closed. Tammy Wells photo

Local retailers, used to selling their wares from open storefronts, are ratcheting up online offerings to bolster sales now that their brick and mortar businesses have been shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Janet Mills, on March 24, issued an executive order mandating that all non-essential businesses and operations in Maine that allow customers, vendors or other in-person contact, close their physical locations.

Karleen Frost, owner of Karleen’s Ideas in Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, designs and produces an array of sensory products aimed at children with autism or other special needs – ranging from weighted blankets to adaptive clothing, and a toy line that includes items such as pressure tubes made from swim fabric, that children can crawl through.

Frost, the mother of three autistic children, began her business at her home in 2011, and moved to a storefront in Dock Square a few years later. While Karleen’s Ideas also carries a line of jewelry, scarves and the like, most of the products she sells are sensory products she makes herself.

“I try to be a resource to help other parents, because I’ve dealt with many of the issues,” associated with autism, she said.

Karleen Frost, owner of Karleen’s Ideas, where she sells sensory items for children with autism or other special needs, is encouraging online sales while storefronts are shuttered due to the pandemic. Tammy Wells photo

Like other merchants, Frost is trying to reach customers to let them know they can order and conduct a transaction online, and have items shipped. If the customer is local, Frost said the building where her shop is located has a separate foyer where she can place a order for pick-up at a specific time once the online transaction has been made. The shop itself is closed.

“We don’t have to interact at all,” Frost said.

And while the Fine Print Booksellers shop, like other specialty retailers, is shuttered, owner Kristen Kuehnle said people are reading more these days as the pandemic has limited the availability of other pastimes, and so she is directing folks to her website.

A retired clinical psychologist and professor at Salem State University, Kuehnle opened the book shop in Dock Square three years ago.

“It’s done very well,” she said by phone in a recent interview. “Book people are really interesting people.”

Laura Dolce, director of Kennebunk – Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is part of a statewide movement called Pay It Forward Maine, where folks are encouraged to continue to support local businesses – whether the business be a specialty retailer, a restaurant, hotel, hair salon, daycare or some other shop or service, by buying online where possible and buying gift certificates.

Kennebunk Toy Co., Main Street, Kennebunk. Dan King photo

To check out Pay it Forward Maine, go to: www.gokennebunks.com.

“I’d encourage local businesses to work with their chambers to get their message out,” said Dolce. “We’ve been working with members as well as nonmembers, because our whole communities need help right now.”

Kelly Ratoff established Kennebunk Toy Co., on Main Street in downtown Kennebunk, in 1996. She is directing customers to her Facebook page for online ordering.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” said Ratoff. And she said, when the governor’s executive order is lifted, and the storefront is open again, she is hoping for a good season with even more local support.

“I think we’ll come together as a community,” Ratoff said.

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