NORWAY — Across the country, small town Main Streets  went silent in March. The shut down economy combined with reports of coronavirus in the community turned bustling villages and towns into ghost towns as Mainers juggled television scenes of urban hospital chaos on national news with daily briefings from state officials on the spread of the virus.

But despite an eeriness on the street, the shuttered shops of Norway stayed open. Business owners launched Zoom workshops, innovated on social media and adjusted to mandated restrictions. Curbside pick-up, shipping and home delivery options made it possible to keep products selling. New demand developed for pastimes and projects consumers did not previously have time for.

The doors of Norway’s shops were closed through the pandemic but continued to operate with curbside pick-up, delivery and shipping. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“I think The Tribune was helpful to families that were trying to keep children engaged,” said Adrienne Cote, local bookstore owner. “I sold more puzzles, workbooks and of course books to keep people entertained during isolation, all through curbside pick-up, or shipping.

“The local folks kept shopping with me. I know they were trying to make sure we would get through the closures. I am so very grateful to my community for the support they have given.”

The store owners of Norway looked after each other as well, making sure they knew of others’ hours, giving referrals on items and ideas and keeping each other company.

“Our fellow businesses banded together to support each other,” said Joanna Reese, co-owner of Food for Thought Books and Records. “And we continue to refer clientele to each other and communicating for the mutual survival of small, independently owned and operated businesses in our beautiful downtown.”

Local restaurants and bakeries did their part to help those who suddenly lost jobs and incomes. Some cleaned out their shelves and freezers, donating food they could not sell to local food pantries. Others stayed open as they were able, preparing free meals on different days to anyone driving by or through.

Happi Chicks Bake Shop teamed up with the Second Congregational Church of Norway, supplying the church with baked goods to include with free meals distributed every Monday.  Bakery owner Christina Bigelow estimates that her shop has helped pass out more than 1,300 meals since March.

At the Fiber and Vine, owner Kim Hamlin engaged her regular customers by challenging them to allow her to pick out a wine that she thought they would enjoy, giving them a surprise based on what she knew they have and have not tried before.

“Wine sales were pretty good” during COVID-19 closures, she quipped. Hamlin also used her down time as an opportunity to ramp up her online sales, making it easier for customers to shop from home.

As the economy has reopened and people emerge from sheltering at home, Norway’s small merchants are banding together once again to thank the community for supporting them through the unprecedented economic downturn that ran through the spring.

Some of the gifts and gems on display at the Raven Collections in Norway. Owner Darlene Dadian-Gray said that selling gift certificates while her shop was closed due to COVID-19 helped her through tough times. Supplied photo

“I wanted to find a way to let my customers know how much I’ve appreciated them,” said Cote. She put out a query to other shops, asking if they would be interested in hosting a grass-roots special, targeting local shoppers. Three business owners immediately jumped on the bandwagon and as they settled on a date and details others joined in to make it a community event.

“Friday, Jul. 3, will be ‘Customer Apprciation Day’ in Norway,” Cote said. “More than 10 of the shops on Main Street will participate, with sales, special promotions and special events.”

The day of thanks will offer customers in-store discounts and cross-promotions with other shops. The Fiber & Vine will start its summer Friday Wine Tasting to Go and include watermelon gazpacho from Café Nomad in each bag. The Tribune is hosting a trunk show for The Woods Maine and local author Alexandra Thompson will be on hand from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. to sign copies her new book “A Family for Louie.”

Bigelow said she will give away free cupcakes, while supplies last, to celebrate Happi Chicks’ 5th anniversary. Food for Thought is offering discounts storewide but also will feature a selection of free books and records as a way of thanking customers for their support since March.

Hamlin said that the combination of arts and craft with wine sales helped her keep going.

“I think a lot of people have found comfort in their hobbies lately,” she said. “A good project to focus on is a great way to de-stress.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the effort folks made to shop here, to share words or encouragement, even bring flowers and cards, or just smile and wave as they walk by. It means a lot and it reminds me of how connected we are here.”

Some of the stores participating in Norway Customer Appreciation include The Tribune, Food for Thought, Fiber and Vine, The Raven Collections, The Dragon’s Lair, Cafe Nomad, Fare Share Coop, Happi Chicks Bake Shop, Dolce Amici and Aquilart.

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