Anita Blais holds lingerie Friday afternoon in the window of her business, Midnight Boutique, on Main Street in Lewiston. Customers call and tell her what they are looking for and their sizes and she shows them through the window. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — For customers who can’t quite decide but want to stay a safe distance away, Anita Blais has started holding up multiple garments in her big front window facing Main Street: Do you want to go with lingerie no. 1 or lingerie no. 2?

“I carry some items that are conservative and some that are not — they’re just a bit on the bolder side,” said Blais, longtime owner of Midnight Boutique Lingerie, who has seen decent business since offering curbside pickup. “I carry the things that people are looking for when they get stressed, and face it, that’s part of life.”

D’angelo Grilled Sandwiches on Lisbon Street is offering a new special “Buy A Rice Bowl Get A TP Roll.” Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Karen Pelletier of Lewiston did a double take this week when she opened her takeout lunch from D’Angelo sandwich shop and found a roll of toilet paper inside.

“A few months ago I would have questioned ‘Why, maybe I’ll have a problem with the meal later?’ Today, ‘Awesome, a roll of toilet paper!'” she said.

The surprise was part of a new, ongoing promotion.

“You’ve got to have a sense of humor,” Dean Alexander, manager of the Lisbon Street D’Angelo’s, said.

Businesses around Maine are getting creative to keep sales going during stay-at-home orders that have outright shuttered so many during the pandemic.

The Governor’s Restaurant chain earlier this month started offering grocery staples such as one pound of butter or pasta, five pounds of frozen chicken nuggets and even toilet paper by the roll.

“Flour is one of the most popular (items),” Carlene Barnies, manager of the Lisbon Street restaurant, said. “I have people that grab flour every time they do a meal to go.”

Similarly, Texas Roadhouse, with restaurants in Augusta, Scarborough and Bangor, started selling ready-to-grill steaks to take home.

At D’Angelo, Alexander said each location got to choose its way to incorporate toilet paper. He liked the ring of: “Buy a rice bowl, get a TP roll.”

“People have come in and didn’t think it was serious,” he said. “They go, ‘You seriously did put a roll in there,’ I said, ‘Yes, we did.'”

Coastal Maine Popcorn Co.’s Quarantine Kit, offered online April 17, has been flying off the Boothbay Harbor company’s virtual shelves. Submitted photo

Just one week ago, Julie Roberts at Coastal Maine Popcorn Co. in Boothbay Harbor came up with the idea for the Quarantine Kit: Two small bags of popcorn, two oatmeal cream pies, two cloth face masks, two rolls of TP and 10 alcohol wipes for $39.99.

“We were trying to think outside the box: Where our retail location had closed, but we were still taking care of our wholesale and online, ‘What can we do to kind of spike things, what would be fun, what would be inventive? What does everybody need right now?'” Roberts said.

She and her employees joked they hoped the idea wouldn’t flop. Within 10 minutes of going online, orders started rolling.

“Hawaii, Alaska, Florida, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, everywhere,” she said. “It got a little out of our control. By that night I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? We have to figure out how to make (more) masks.’ I got my 8-year-old a sewing machine for her birthday last year so I dug that out.”

Several hundred kits have gone out the door in the past week.

“It’s cool because not only are we staying busy and keeping people on,” Roberts said, but it’s also helping other businesses like Farm 23, the local bakery making the oatmeal cream pies. “We’ve been able to give her a substantial chunk of money.”

At Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe in Brunswick, owner Becky Shepherd was forced to close abruptly when customers could no longer come in to place orders and they weren’t yet set up to smoothly handle curbside pickup.

“We started floating this idea of (a recipe subscription) because we couldn’t be making things ourselves and wouldn’t it be cool if people could be making this at home while were closed,” she said. “We get asked a lot for recipes and it’s always been our policy not to give them out because that’s the backbone of what we do.”

But, maybe it was time.

For a $25 subscription, they offered 17 recipes over 12 days, a mix that included entrees, soups and desserts. Nearly 1,000 people signed up.

“It took on a life of its own that we never, ever would have expected and it’s obviously hugely helped us pay for our health insurance for our employees,” Shepherd said. “We had to lay off close to 60 people and we cover 60% of health insurance,” which they’ve continued even with the layoff.

Madeline Shepherd, 3, helps prepare Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe’s sour cream coffee cake recipe, offered in its new recipe subscription this month. Shepherd, who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the granddaughter of Wild Oats owner Becky Shepherd. Submitted photo

Wild Oats plans to release a third run of those same recipes soon and may do a new subscription batch in May.

Customers have shared photos of their creations, started informal “who could make a nicer coffee cake” competitions and sent in epic fails, trying to figure out where they went wrong.

They’ve also left messages for the nearly 30-year-old bakery saying they’ll return when the shop reopens, which it did with a limited menu and curbside pickup Friday.

The response to the subscription idea “was amazing,” Shepherd said. “It was really fun and people were so interactive and they were so enthusiastic about it. It was just uplifting and heartwarming and it did all that we wanted and really kept us connected with so much of our community.”

In Lewiston, Blais has owned Midnight Boutique Lingerie for 27 years. The shop offers massage oil and adult novelties in addition to bedroom wear.

After she temporarily closed the retail store, she started to hear from customers, “‘Gee, could you bring it out curbside?’ which was easy enough for me to do,” Blais said.

They’re placing orders online and over the phone. She’s been grateful.

“It is just myself that works here, this is my only income,” she said. “Being self-employed and owning the business and the building, I’m not really ready to retire. I’d like to say I am, but I’m not.”


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