PORTLAND — Some came to get out of the house. Some came to support local businesses. Others came to nab presents in person and avoid supply chain problems.

Whatever their reasons, shoppers filled downtown streets Saturday afternoon on Small Business Saturday.

The annual event started in 2010 to shine a spotlight on small, local stores in the wake of mega retailers’ Black Friday promotions. Advocacy group Portland Buy Local points out that 76 percent of money spent at local retailers stays in the community, a point not lost on many shoppers.

Shoppers crowd Treehouse Toys in Portland’s Old Port during Small Business Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

On Commercial Street, Heidi Stevens of York looked at overflowing merchandise in Shipwreck and Cargo. It’s nice, she said, to get out of the house and shop. As she spoke the song “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” was playing.

“I think people should shop local,” she said. “We all need to make a living. It’s important to support each other.”

Inside Treehouse Toys on Exchange Street, Marina Steller and Stowell Watters looked through shelves of stuffed animals, books, games, puzzles and educational science kits. The store was jammed with merchandise and customers, all wearing masks, which are required for entry to the toy shop.


“We’re shopping for Christmas for family,” said Steller, who was toting bright-eyed, 8-month-old Cosmo in a pack on her back. “We knew it was Small Business Saturday and we should come on out.”

Abigail Leavitt of Pembroke flips through a book at Longfellow Books in Portland’s Monument Square during Small Business Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“We’re shopping for her cousins, not her,” said Watters, whose 4-year-old daughter Dottie Jo stood by. “We’re shopping for something they don’t have, which is hard.”

Watters said he was looking for creative, science-based and maybe even mischievous gifts for the cousins. Dottie Jo, meanwhile, said she wants “a stomp rocket” for Christmas.

Nearby, Jen Montague of Portland and daughter Luca were studying kitchen potholder kits.

“We have a potholder factory at our house at the moment,” the mother said. “We need additional looms.”

They were happy to be in a store during the Christmas season instead of on their computer.


“It’s pretty to come into the stores, the decorations and the music,” Montague said. “It feels celebratory.”

Becky McKinnell of Cumberland, who was looking for toys for her nieces and nephews, said that as a small business owner herself she’s very aware of Small Business Saturday. One of her businesses is a handbag company, Wildwood Oyster Co. of Portland.

“The past two years have been really hard,” she said. “It’s important to support people who are your neighbors.”

Dorothy Watters and father Stowe Watters of Limington browse the shelves at Treehouse Toys in Portland’s Old Port during Small Business Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Laura Fitton of Peaks Island and Milton, Massachusetts, was walking up Exchange Street carrying several almost-overflowing shopping bags.

“We got something for everyone at this point,” she said with a laugh. She came out after doing some shopping online, where she noticed delivery dates are later than she desired. “It gave me a heads up that shopping online will be rough this year.” It’s a relief having gifts in hand, “so we don’t have to worry about delivery times.”

Fitton owns a vacation rental cottage on Peaks Island. Like others, she said it’s important that her personal and business spending support the town she’s in. During last year’s pandemic shutdown, Fitton fretted that her favorite downtown shops wouldn’t make it.


“We were alarmed and thought a couple of places closed,” she said, adding that they had not. “They all just moved.”

Heidi Stephens of York tries on a pair of sunglasses at Shipwrecks and Cargo in Portland’s Old Port on Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

John Leavitt of Washington County and his daughter Abigail drove four hours to shop in Portland on Saturday.

“We wanted to get out of the house. With COVID we haven’t been able to,” Abigail said.

It was nice to be in a physical store to browse, her father said.

“Because of where we live we have to rely on online shopping. There aren’t a lot of stores in Pembroke,” he said. “In Portland there’s so many stores.”

Longfellow Books owner Ari Gersen said he isn’t sure what to expect for business this Christmas season.

“Last year was weird. This year is weird,” he said. Because of supply shortages, “we’ve been trying to push people to shop early.”

But he ordered from vendors early; his storage room is full. On Saturday his store had plenty of books and shoppers.

“It’s been a nice, steady stream,” he said. “The weather’s beautiful. People are definitely out.”

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