Naked calendar sales sagging

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PARIS – Naked people clipping hedges and shoveling dirt – while still hot in their own way – no longer seem to be the hot bun items they once were, based on this year’s lackluster sales of the famous McLaughlin Foundation wall calendar.

And while consumer tastes are predictably fickle, the trend is worrying some of the garden staff and volunteers who must tend to the public garden’s bank account. Because the nonprofit does not charge a gate fee, allowing anyone to peruse its historic gardens or buildings for free, it must rely on other sources of funding to keep the organization running.

The nude calendar, especially, has been a big money-maker in recent years. The garden has put out three – in 2003, in 2005, and the third and possibly final one, for 2007. The most recent calendar depicts people like a popular chef and a former economic development director in their full underwear-less glory.

“The first was our most successful,” Executive Director Michael Desplaines said Wednesday. “It was picked up nationally; it was a huge money-maker. The second did half of (the sales of) the first, and I was hoping this would do half of the second. And it is doing a third.”

The first calendar sold so well that the garden was able to pay off a big chunk of its $150,000 mortgage. But the third one’s lagging sales caused the garden’s board of directors to agree recently that they would have to come up with another fundraising idea this year.

One possibility for the calendar’s decline is that the peeping Tom pleasure of seeing familiar people around town bare and shearing shrubs has lost some of its novelty.

Since the first nude calendar came out in 2000 of a group of English women raising money for cancer research, hundreds of nonprofits have capitalized on the fad. Just perusing the Internet for nude calendars turns up groups as diverse as bus drivers, Russian bakers, an orchestra in Ohio, and “desperate librarians in Wisconsin.”

The other possibility for the phenomenon is that the garden faced stiff competition this year from “Save the Barn on Stearns Hill Farm,” a new linoleum print calendar created by Ellen Gibson to raise money to restore her old barn in West Paris.

Erica Jed, owner of Books N Things on Main Street in Norway, said she has sold 62 of Gibson’s calendars and just 18 of the McLaughlin Garden calendar.

“They’ll buy that one if they want something local,” said Lita Balkir, a seller at the Norway bookstore.

Desplaines said the McLaughlin Foundation, which has been open for 10 years, has had a policy of not charging a visitor fee, staying true to the welcoming vision of Bernard McLaughlin, the original owner.

But the center will need to find money to paint the house, restore the front steps, replace the boiler, offer educational programs and in general keep up the place. The calendars are still for sale, and Desplaines said he has slashed the cost of those at the center from $16 to $10.

“This calendar has at least paid for itself and we’re making a little money on it,” he said. “100 percent of the sales is pure donation, every calendar (sale) goes right to the garden. We’ve paid off printing costs, graphics and the photographer, so everything is gravy now. We just need a little more gravy.”

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