With the holiday shopping season here, many small business owners say while they are not immune to concerns about supply chain problems and the difficulty of finding workers, those concerns are, like their businesses, small.

And they are hopeful some of those shoppers’ concerns may actually drive customers to shop more locally, where they can physically pick out their items in person and take them home, rather than rely on online-based retailers and the vagaries of international supply chains and shipping.

At Alan Claude Gallery in downtown Gardiner, holiday shoppers can even buy a print from the graphic artist himself, or his wife Erin Claude, or either of their two employees.

Erin Claude worked at the Water Street art gallery on Small Business Saturday, their art mostly featuring coastal Maine sites was for sale. She said they’ve had a hard time getting certain sized frames from their suppliers and some of their coasters with artwork on them can be slow to arrive, but most everything else in their gallery is available, as usual, because they make nearly all of it themselves.

“Everything else we’re able to do; we print all the art on our walls ourselves,” she said of the posters and calendars and other boldly-styled prints at the gallery in downtown Gardiner. “Shipping is a concern, but we try to get our orders out really quickly. We also still offer curbside pickup. We can accommodate it all.”

She said business had picked up both Friday and Saturday, and speculated that people may be looking for more meaningful gifts, as the coronavirus pandemic, and the supply chain delays it has played a role in, endure. She said they have two employees who are both “wonderful, and who we greatly appreciate.”

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Kathy and Matt Lindley, and their daughter Kate, shopped at Alan Claude Gallery Saturday, because they were looking for a specific work, a print that included friends of theirs atop an overturned kayak.

Gardiner Main Street and Johnson Hall were putting on special holiday events meant to help draw people into the city.

A fundraiser taking place this weekend and next inside Johnson Hall, a performing arts venue in downtown Gardiner, featured 34 holiday trees, each donated  by local businesses and decorated and surrounded and/or covered in donated items and gift cards, for which participants purchase raffle tickets.

Johnson Hall Executive Artistic Director Mike Miclon Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Michael Miclon, executive artistic director of Johnson Hall, said the event is their biggest fundraiser, but also a fun and festive activity that draws people to the downtown.

“We’re in this together,” Miclon said of it being good for both Johnson Hall and downtown businesses to have people drawn to Gardiner. He said Johnson Hall’s Festival of Trees will be the last one held in the currently rough-looking theater space, as construction is slated to start in April 2022 on a massive, long-awaited restoration. “There will be 400 seats up here, that’s going to be driving that many more people to come here, so that should really help with the local economy.”

The Colonial Theater, in Augusta, where officials are raising funds for a planned restoration there, has a similar holiday-tree-themed fundraiser taking place this weekend, with proceeds from sales of raffle tickets for the trees benefitting the Colonial Theater and Augusta Downtown Alliance.

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That event is part of 12 Days of Augusta holiday events, which include a tree lighting, fireworks Saturday night, visits with Santa and other events.

David Hopkins, an owner of Merkaba Sol & the Chocolate Shoppe in downtown Augusta, said holiday shopping seemed to be off to a strong start, especially with the Augusta Downtown Alliance and city events helping bring people downtown.

He said downtown merchants have gotten through the still-ongoing pandemic by supporting each other, including by offering discounts to other downtown businesses, and shopping at and recommending each other’s businesses, but mostly just offering ideas and moral support to each other.

“We’ll sit together and have kind of a think tank and help each other out. That’s what’s cool about this street,” he said of Augusta’s Water Street. “Maybe supply chain concerns could be a good thing, if they keep people shopping locally.”

He said they’ve had difficulties getting some items — which come to the shop from across the globe — and have had some issues getting certain types of chocolate, including white chocolate, but that overall they haven’t been largely impacted by supply chain delays. The shop, which has the chocolate shop in the back, specializes in items related to spirituality, and its shelves appeared to be well-stocked as about a half-dozen shoppers checked out the goods Saturday.

In Waterville, Robin Samalus-Getchell, owner of The Robin’s Nest, was busy fulfilling customers’ homemade wreath orders for the post-Thanksgiving rush to decorate for the holidays.

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Samalus-Getchell’s business has been growing rapidly since first opening in 2018 and will be relocating next year to a much bigger space — going from 366 square feet to 1,878 square feet of retail floor.

She attributes the business’ success to the customer service and the individualized approach to floral arrangements.

“It’s the experience that the customers’ love,” Samalus-Getchell said.

She noted that the business has been experiencing on-going supply chain issues for a variety of reasons starting shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, which has led to her sourcing more plants from local growers.

One particular shipment of flowers was delayed because one driver became ill with COVID-19 and could not make deliveries.

There have also been large price increases due to the decreased supply of flora, Samalus-Getchell said, with some items quadrupling in cost.

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Russell Coston, of China, came to Gardiner with his mother, aunt, daughter and stepdaughter for the Festival of Trees at Johnson Hall, and also planned to go to the River of Trees at the Colonial Theater. He said he planned to wait to do his Christmas shopping until closer to the holiday and shop locally, in-person, in part because he doesn’t like using computers. He said he’s not worried about supply chain issues because when he shops he sees what’s available at stores, and chooses from those items, rather than going in after specific items.

After a successful first year of #ShopSmall week in 2020, Main Street Skowhegan is continuing the weeklong celebration of small businesses in town this year, starting on Small Business Saturday and running through Dec. 4.

Gretchen Washburn, owner of the InspirArt North gallery on Water Street, said that she has noticed a trend over the last few years of people shopping more locally.

“It’s been slowly growing,” Washburn said Saturday, unsure of the exact cause of the shift. “People are supporting their community more.”

One of Washburn’s longtime customers, Jill Dionne, of Norridgewock, said that shopping at small businesses allows one to find unique items that make for more special gifts during the holiday season, as opposed to at big-box stores.

Washburn said that all the art and crafts in the store are sourced from Maine artisans.

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InspirArt allowed each customer to drop an entry into a raffle to win a handmade gift basket from the shop. Each business participating in the event has different specials to lure in customers.

Sarah Wishart-Rogers and her daughter made the trip from Clinton to catch some deals and, admittedly, for some treats at The Bankery & Skowhegan Fleuriste.

“I think I’m addicted,” Wishart-Rogers said with a laugh, as her daughter munched on a cake pop.

After a morning of shopping, Mike Pion, Skowhegan, took a load off at Bigelow Brewing Co., which participated with 15% off gift cards. He said he likes seeing how the small businesses in Skowhegan can come together and support one another.

“Everyone partners together,” Pion said.

At 1 Brunswick Trading, which sells antiques, vintage items and premium cigars in Gardiner, owners Mary Ann and Peter Johnson said they’ve got plenty of antiques on hand to sell, and their cigar supplies have remained strong, though some items, such as boxes, have been hard to come by. Peter said most of their cigars come from Nicaragua, where the supply doesn’t seem to have been impacted very much by the pandemic.

“We’re noticing some of the speciality shops seem to be doing better than usual,” he said. “People are looking for specialty things, and they realize, the good deal isn’t always from the big boxes, or Amazon.”

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