Outlook good for many Houlton businesses

15 years ago

By Elna Seabrooks
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — For all the talk about a tough national economy, instead of crying the blues about pre-Christmas sales activity, several business owners and managers in Houlton are doing all right. In fact, some are doing better than last year. 
    Lori Weston, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce said the reports from business owners “all season has been that sales have been really, really good which is a wonderful thing. I think this year we have done a couple of things to promote them. We have done some advertising and they do some advertising. We hope people will shop locally first.”
ImageImageHoulton Pioneer Times photo/Elna Seabrooks
SOLD — In the above photo, Gail Scovill, left, co-owner of Country North Gifts in Market Square, rings up Bonnie Foster’s purchase Sunday afternoon when Foster bought a Willow Tree angle for a good friend. Her daughter, Erin Foster of  Amity, right, bought a gift for a Yankee swap. In the photo to the right,  Karen Keber, left, owner of Uncle Willy’s Candy Shoppe, says sales are going really well, especially the old-fashioned candy. Brenda Hemingway drove in from Ludlow to shop for Christmas.

    Apparently many are. Brenda Hemingway drove into Houlton from Ludlow to purchase Christmas gifts for her family at Uncle Willy’s Candy Shoppe on Main St. “It’ convenient, new and she has everything that one would need,” said Hemingway. The store owner, Karen Keber said sales are “going really well.” Most customers, she said, are buying old-fashioned candy like the ribbon candy. “I have a lot more inventory than we had last year because we opened so close to Christmas.” Keber, like many business owners, said she will stay open late to accommodate shoppers, stock shelves and package merchandise.
Shop local campaign working
    Weston said “I think people are discovering us which has been our cry for the last year. ‘Discover Houlton and discover the experience.’ I think that’s starting to work.”
    Rich Stone, sales associate at Dunn Furniture on North Street, said he has seen customers Christmas shopping for area rugs, magazine racks, family portrait clocks, recliners and sofas. Owner Frank Dunn said business is actually quite good although it could be down a bit from last year. “We’re used to that in Aroostook County,” Dunn said. He added that his customer base is “probably strongest from Caribou to Medway to Danforth. We deliver to a wide area.”
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times photo/Elna Seabrooks
BROAD CUSTOMER BASE — Frank Dunn says sales at Dunn Furniture are actually quite good with a customer base that’s strongest from Caribou to Medway to Danforth.

    And, upscale items like leather furniture are, according to Dunn, more affordable. “Leather is a big item and pretty much any home now can afford a leather chair or sofa.” What’s hot in furniture? “With us it’s been the old standby — the recliners and rocker recliners. La-Z-Boy is our key manufacturer and supplier.”
    At York’s book store in Market Square, owner Lynn York said business is up nearly 25 percent over last year. “Everything is selling better. I don’t know why. I’m sitting here with my mouth open — books, cards, Russell Stover chocolates, jigsaw puzzles, everything is going really well. Stocking stuffers, it’s all selling.”
    York’s rosy 2009 scenario is a welcome respite from the dismal 2008 Christmas shopping season. “Last year was a disaster — the worst year I’ve seen in 40 years. This one has bounced right back. I have had people from everywhere stop in. Recently I’ve had customers from New York and New Hampshire. But, I have not seen anyone from Vermont.”
If you sell it they will come
    During his interview for the Pioneer Times, Ruth Lawson-Stopps joined the conversation. She said she was in town on business looking for a place to eat and wanted to go next door to County North Gifts. She had traveled from Bath for business meetings in Houlton and Presque Isle. “It’s neat seeing downtowns. Some downtowns are not doing well. It’s nice to see the ones that are doing well.”
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photon/Elna Seabrooks
HI SANTA! — Lyman Crabbe of Houlton stopped to look at the stuffed Santa Kimberly Beals was holding but ended up buying cards.

    Bob Strout said he favored Houlton for his Christmas shopping because he had gone to Bangor and “it was crazy. You can’t get around there.” Strout, an Orient resident, went to the Marden’s in the Houlton Shopping Plaza to buy things “for the grand kids. I bought a stuffed teddy bear, puzzles, gloves and cooking utensils.”
    Gloria Fitzpatrick, a clothing supervisor at Marden’s said she was selling “a lot of winter coats, hats and mittens, of course, at this time of year. And, with this $3.99 bargain rack things have really been sailing out of here. There are some brand-name clothes. Even  three-piece suits for $3.99.”
    Although the parking lots may not look packed, customers say they are trying to get in their shopping before it’s too late. And, many say they favor Houlton.
    Cathy Davis was in Rite Aid looking for a few Christmas gifts. The Houlton resident said she went a week ago to Presque Isle and said she came home with nothing because she could buy the same things in Houlton. “I made up my mind to hit the small shops in Houlton every lunch hour.”
    Arita Spencer another Houlton resident was just steps away in another aisle buying cards and some presents for her family. “I hope to find something for my grandchildren, daughter and son-in law.”
    And, Mrs. T was rushing into the store from Hodgdon “for stocking stuffers something fun for children.”  She said she was “helping Santa and couldn’t give her name because her children read the paper.”
    At the other end of the parking lot, the owner of the Sears of Houlton Store, Bart Dunn,  said the general retail environment for his line of merchandise — appliances, TVs and tools — was generally down somewhere between 10-20 percent. He added that last year was not great, but not terrible either.
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photo/Elna Seabrooks
BARGAINS — Gloria Fitzpatrick, clothing supervisor at Marden’s in Houlton checks the clothing racks. She says “With this $3.99 bargain rack things have really been sailing out of here.”

    Up the road at Walmart, spokesperson Ashley Hardie said the corporation does not give any year-to-year comparisons until early February and she could not break out any specific information for a particular location like Houlton or southern Aroostook as far as Christmas sales.
    However, Hardie did say the popular items this year are Zhu Zhu pet hamsters, electronics, video games and board games. The board games she said have been updated to reflect the interest in them by “tweens.” And, Walmart, according to Hardie has reduced the top video games by $10.
Christmas shopping winds down for some
    Meanwhile back at Market Square, Mike Beals said business at Beals Variety Store “has been pretty good and merchandise is moving, especially decorations.” Wife and co-owner, Shelley Beal said “compared with last year we are about even. We have seen a lot of customers from the Mars Hill area.”
    Late Sunday afternoon Lyman Crabbe of Houlton purchased a couple of greeting cards. “One of these cards is going to Arizona,” said Crabbe.
    A few doors down at Country North Gifts, Sandra Saunders, a sales associate, said the store’s business was steady. “I think more people are shopping close to home. We try to stay stocked. We have had a hard time keeping hats and mittens stocked as well as Willow Tree angels. They are all hot items for a cold season.”
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photo/Elna Seabrooks
CHECK IT OUT — Orient resident Bob Strout said he preferred shopping in Houlton for the family’s Christmas gifts since it was less hectic than shopping in Bangor because “there it’s crazy.”

    The popular Willow Tree angels are staples in the store. Bonnie Foster of Houlton “bought one for a good friend who will get it before the next issue of paper comes out.”  Her daughter, Erin, who lives in Amity, purchased a jar of jam for a Yankee swap this week.
    Many of the store owners in Houlton have been staying open late this week. It is best, however, for real procrastinators to call ahead and avoid disappointment on Christmas eve.
    And, York, always good for a zinger line said: “I don’t turn people away, especially for my good local customers. I stick right with them — especially if they look like they have money.”