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Economic downturn affects Main Street
NORWAY — In the Oxford Hills area, owners of small stores are voicing their concerns about the upcoming business year.
Books N Things, a bookstore that has been in town for six years, is owned by Erica Jed. Originally located in the Oxford Plaza, Books N Things has been around for 33 years, but six years ago, Erica bought the store and moved it to its current location on Main Street.
Jed says Christmas is always good for her business; the summer is also busy. But lately she’s had worries about making it past this winter.
“[Books N Things] is a part of people’s lives,” Jed says, explaining that she can never really tell what will happen each year. Jed explains “it was bad weather last year” that caused her business to have problems. She can never really tell what’s going to happen. She just has to count on people coming through.
As for the future, Jed wonders about moving. There is no bookstore in Lewiston/Auburn, and she thinks about shrinking the size of Books N Things and moving there.
Being a business owner on Main Street, Jed knows that she’s not the only one worried about the economy. “Everyone suffers.” says Jed.
Down the street is another business, Café Nomad. The café has been owned by Scott Berk since 2007. Berk reports his business has improved every year, and that he has a lot of customers come through. His business opened right before the economy crashed, and he doesn’t know what it would be like if the economy were good.
“People like coffee. They want to drink coffee,” says Berk. “Nobody else in the area does what I do. Ari’s is across the street, but even though they’re a food business, we both do our different things.”
Café Nomad gets a lot of positive feedback. There’s a guestbook by the door that people can sign as they leave. Berk said that two of them have already been filled.
Another business, located right next to the former Woodman’s, is Chris Ryan Hair Color. This business is owned by Chris Ryan, who has been doing hair for 21 years, and who has worked for herself for 10. Ryan works with Betty Jordan, who owns the building that her shop is in.
As for how her business is doing, Ryan says that she’s never been worried about keeping her business open, but it does slow down seasonally. “People that are now unemployed are going to school, and they have their friend do their hair for them,” Ryan says. What sets her apart from other hair stylists on Main Street is that Ryan strictly specializes in hair color.
“You have to stay on top. People are always asking ‘what’s new’ and I have to know,” Ryan says. She explains that some customers come in and say “do whatever.” She also says that she wants her instructors’ license, so she can teach people about hair color.
The real question about her business though, is whether people really need it in their lives. Ryan has a number of regulars who come in to her shop. They expect her to make them feel good about themselves. She strives to do her best. “People care,” she says, “I guess that’s why I’m never out of business. They’re all I have. My family.”
To keep her business going, she tries to save money wherever she can. Ryan turns off lights, unplugs things, and uses her colors sparingly. Ryan also knows that other stores are affected by the economy.
“I see one business down the street that’s moving,” says Ryan. But with regard to her future, she is firm. “I’m staying where I am. I love Main Street. There’s great visibility.”
On the other side of the spectrum and down the road a little is Days Gone By Antique Shop. This antique shop is owned by Chester and Brenda Jones. They have no other people working there, and that’s one way they save money. Brenda Jones says that Days Gone By is only open five hours a day, five days a week, and that she works a part-time job to keep up.
She reports there is “no change in business,” but it is “not like it used to be.”
“We get lots of people who just come in and look at the history. The exposure is good,” Jones says. “We have people come in and say that this is the only real antique shop they’ve seen.”
Days Gone By not only sells, but also buys antiques from people in the community.
“People clean out their homes, and find antiques, and we buy them.” says Jones.
Even though the economy is tough, Fare Share, a food co-op on Main Street, is still pretty busy.
“We have a fair number of customers who come through.” says Claire Gelinas, the general manager of Fare Share. Although, this year those sales have been down, the roof has leaked, the computers have crashed, and freezers have died, Gelinas knows how important Fare Share is to the members and the community.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle.” Gelinas says. When they first went into business on Main Street in 2005, they had a big increase in sales. “It’s been rough,” she admits. Gelinas can also see that the area around her is hurting. “We got three times more job applications than we used to get,” says Gelinas.
To save money within their walls, Gelinas is making some changes.
“We’ve thought about buying a smaller cooler for beer, then getting rid of the produce coolers, so all the produce goes into the walk-in,” she explains. “The result is less electricity and less food waste.”
Fare Share also uses its outdated food. If they can’t sell it, they make soup from it. If they cannot make soup, they give it away for chicken feed, and if it can’t be used for chickens, they give it away for composting. They also reuse their packing materials by giving them to Going Postal, a small shipping business near Guy E. Rowe School.
Gelinas is thinking about the future. She dreams about having a mobile market, where food would be delivered to homes and businesses. Another dream is to have a small restaurant right on Main Street. It would be called One World Everybody Eats, and it would have fresh food, a good atmosphere, and good people. As for expanding or changing right now, probably nothing will change. “It’s not the time to be thinking about that,” Gelinas says.
With the economy being up and down, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. Coming up with ways to save money, like using supplies carefully, becoming more energy-efficient, and being careful about bills is the only way to make it.
As Gelinas says, “we’re in for some bumps if it doesn’t get better.”