Sen. Angus King touted the importance of shopping locally this holiday season while visiting small businesses in downtown Bath on Monday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Small businesses in Bath reported business is booming compared to last year thanks to residents choosing to shop local, but merchants hope that profitability will continue into the holiday season.

“Retail business is finally starting to pick up again, which is a relief, and our design business is bonkers compared to last year,” said Maine Street Design Co. Owner Brett Johnson. “There seems to be a post-COVID-19 run on our services, which isn’t explainable, but it’s welcome.”

Johnson said the design portion of Maine Street Design Co., located on the corner of Front and Elm streets, has increased about 50% this year compared to last. As the holiday shopping season begins, Johnson said he hopes Bath residents consider shopping locally to help the retail portion of his enterprise thrive as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

“The obvious thing about shopping locally is it keeps our hard-earned money right here in the state of Maine and in our local communities,” said Johnson. “We employ a lot of other small businesses and tradespeople, so keeping that local helps us take care of our community better.”

Johnson’s hopes echo Sen. Angus King’s sentiments as he visited eight local businesses in downtown Bath to speak with business owners on Monday. King said his mission was to “raise the consciousness of shopping locally to keep the money in Maine.”

“It’s no secret that online shopping has exploded, and that’s fine, everyone does it,” said King. “We want to remind people that there are wonderful stores in the neighborhood. They were here for us when we needed them, so this is our opportunity to support them.”

During his tour Monday, King visited Café Crème, Bath Natural Market, Bath Sweet Shoppe, Mockingbird Bookshop, Maine Street Design, Lisa-Marie’s Maine Made, Loyal Biscuit and Bruno’s Wood Fired Pizza.

Bath Natural Market Owner Jesse Weyl said business at his Centre Street grocery store has been “more robust” than this time last year. In fact, Weyl said he considers 2020 to be “a wash,” which was disheartening after his business took off in 2019.

“We had a monster year in 2019 where we grew about 15%, then we had a very challenging year,” said Weyl. “Now, we’re surpassing 2019 by about 10%. We’re doing a good job, we’re busy.”

Bath Natural Market Owner Jesse Weyl (left) told Sen. Angus King (right) business at his Centre Street grocery store has been “more robust” than this time last year. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Lisa-Marie Stewart, co-owner of Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine said “Business this year has made up for last year.”

“It’s busier this year than it has ever been,” said Stewart. “Our customers have been keeping things local because they know what we do supports over 400 Maine makers and other small businesses.”

The one recent hardship Stewart said she’s facing is that some of her artisans can’t get the supplies they need to create their products due to supply chain delays, or find enough employees to make products on time.

King said he was impressed by the “vitality” of Bath’s thriving downtown after the COVID-19 pandemic brought financial hardship on small businesses across the state and the nation.

“Everybody seems to be doing well, they’re in good spirits, and they made it through what we hope was the worst of the pandemic,” said King. “They’re hometown entrepreneurs and they’re doing well, and it’s fantastic to see.”

King’s visit comes days before the 12th annual Small Business Saturday, an American shopping holiday on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when people are encouraged to shop from local businesses rather than online or national chains.

U.S. consumers who shopped at independent retailers and restaurants spent about $19.8 billion, according to the 2020 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey commissioned by American Express. The survey also found 97% of shoppers recognized the positive impact of shopping locally.

In addition to supporting the community, King said shopping locally beats the supply chain delays the country is facing heading into the holiday season.

“For all the talk of issues with the supply chain, the simplest path to a gift is walking down the street,” King wrote in a statement Monday. “So today was a reminder for Maine people — when thinking of gifts, think local first. You’ll get a great present for your loved ones, and support your neighbor at the same time.”

Gov. Janet Mills offered a similar thought during a visit to Freeport last Thursday.

“I know many Maine people are worried that supply chain shortages will slow down shopping this holiday season, and I share that concern – everyone does,” Mills said Thursday at the opening of The Maine Organic Marketplace, a new store in Freeport that will sell sustainable goods sourced from Maine. “But the good news is you don’t have to worry about that if you shop local at stores like this one as I do every holiday season. Spend your hard-earned money here in Maine on products our farmers worked harder than ever before to create.”

For those who turned to online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus, Bath Sweet Shoppe Owner and Bath City Councilor Jennifer DeChant said most small businesses also have a website where shoppers can purchase local products online, or offer curbside pickup so shoppers never have to enter the store.

“During the pandemic we trained ourselves to do things online and support multibillion dollar companies,” said DeChant. “Let’s now shift back to buying locally. You can get anything locally.”

King said he was also interested in hearing from business owners who took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program and COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan during the height of the pandemic. He said he was pleasantly surprised to hear the owners report that applying for the loans was easy because “The federal government isn’t famous for being user-friendly.”

King credited the loan programs’ success to the fact that, though they were federally funded, they were administered by local banks who knew the merchants applying for them to keep their businesses afloat.

“We sit in Washington to debate these things … but it was immensely valuable and meaningful for me to see first-hand the impact of these programs on the ground,” said King. “I don’t have any doubt that without those programs, half of these businesses would be gone.”


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