Houlton is working harder to draw folks downtown for holiday shopping

2 weeks ago

HOULTON, Maine – The downtown answer to Black Friday has been Small Business Saturday and this year, the Houlton Downtown Alliance was named a Neighborhood Champion by the National Main Street Center.

The whole idea behind the shop small movement was to draw people into downtowns to support local shop owners for holiday shopping, especially when shoppers were cramming malls and box stores with after Thanksgiving Black Friday deals, said Houlton Director of Economic Development Nancy Ketch.

Originally an American Express program, the small business movement has grown and drawn support from Main Street America, the Small Business Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

For every dollar spent at a small business, an average of $0.67 stays in that business’s local neighborhood, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.. 

“The heart of the community is in the downtown,” said Ketch, who applied for the Neighborhood Champion distinction from the National Main Street Center. 

And many of Houlton’s downtown businesses already have big holiday plans with holiday lights up and kicking the holiday shopping season off early this year with the downtown Holiday Open House from noon to 4 p.m. this Sunday, Nov. 19, followed by Small Business Saturday the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25. 

The Houlton Downtown Alliance was initially the downtown Renaissance Committee who recently changed their name.

According to the National Main Street Center, as Neighborhood champions they will rally the community to shop small and plan and host a local event on Small Business Saturday in partnership with small businesses in your community and distribute a complimentary Shop Small kit of merchandise that encourages holiday shopping in support of small businesses all season long.

One of this year’s downtown holiday events include the Ricky the Elf promotion that actually got started last year with rousing success with 182 people following his adventures on Facebook, and 42 completing the necessary visits to enter to win the prize.

The biggest drawback was that some visitors were unable to collect all the signatures, said local entrepreneur Roxanne Bruce, who co-owns the Shiretown Gaming Center and Shire Ale House in Houlton. 

“Tons of people came to me and said I wish there was an elf in every store and we could get all the signatures at once,” Bruce said. “We had people coming from Bangor and a family came from Massachusetts to find the elf.”

This year, the downtown alliance decided to expand the Ricky the Elf program and invite downtown businesses to participate which they hope will draw more people downtown, perhaps to shops they have never visited, Ketch said.

So, more elves will be joining Ricky for this year’s event. And downtown businesses will each have an elf that they will name, create a backstory and scenarios for it. The elves’ capers will be posted on Facebook everyday, Bruce said.