NORWAY — At the end of a trying year, when the holiday shopping season promises to remain risky in the face of a surging pandemic, Norway’s Main Street businesses have much to be thankful for.

The village’s retail community, through innovation and incredible customer support, are seeing it through. Only one Main Street location closed its doors permanently, and within days another start-up snagged the Norway Maine Opera House space.

Despite the uncertain economy, Norway retail has survived, with a new specialty homegoods shop, Brick & Mortar, holding its grand opening in the Norway Maine Opera House block in November. Supplied photo

Norway Downtown is having customer appreciation posters made for businesses to showcase in their storefronts.

“It’s to show how grateful we (business owners and Norway Downtown) are for the incredible support we have felt and continue to feel during this really difficult time,” said Norway Downtown Board President Scott Berk. “So many customers have told me how much they love Main Street and my business and I know they are making a conscious effort to come downtown and spend money.

“We have had summer people who were not able to come this summer send us money with the dearest hope that we will be around next summer when they are able to return.”

Diners eat outside at 290 Main Street in downtown Norway.

Brenda Melhus, owner of Norway Brewing and member of Norway Downtown’s Board of Directors, echoed Berk’s words.

“We have managed to stay alive on Main Street,” she said. “And we have our customers to thank. Thanks for their patience and support, thanks for wearing masks, for buying takeout and curbside—through months of restrictions.”

As a foodservice business, Norway Brewing Brewing could only offer takeout to its customers starting in March. Melhus said she and her co-owner son Charlie put together an online menu and in addition to curbside service also began providing home delivery for customers within 20 miles of the store.

And while the brewery’s in-person dining business was shuttered, they continued to work behind closed doors.

“We kept brewing beer and instead of maintaining it for draft, started canning to boost our take-out inventory,” Melhus said. “Before, we hired someone to do it, but we learned to do it ourselves.”

Norway Brewing also worked with Alan Day Community Gardens on their community support programs and distributed free Thursday pasta dinners curbside last spring. In June the Melhuses were able to open for outdoor dining, which was a moral boost as well as financial.

“With the restrictions, we started seeing new customers for outdoor dining,” said Mulhus. They would sit down and say, ‘I don’t really drink beer.’ We ask what they generally like and offer a sample of this or that for them to try. [Our customer transactions] became a way for them to have a new experience and for us to educate people on different beers.

“Our new customers are a direct result of social distancing. People would come to the area for outdoor activities – hiking – and then stop in afterwards. They would come in with one idea and leave knowing something new.”

Dogs became a new staple to Norway Brewing, as they serve as hiking companions and accompanied their humans. Locals returned as well. Melhus noted that a local customer made it a point to have lunch on their deck once a week, not just as a show of support but also to enjoy a break from stress and comfort from it.

Norway Brewing recently began serving inside again, at 50% capacity. Assuming restrictions are not tightened again, that still means only 14 customers are allowed in at once. And with the recent surges over the last few weeks Melhus said it has already affected their business.

“Customer numbers have dropped,” she said. “People are skittish. Luckily we just had a nice weekend where folks could still sit outside.”

Melhus is in the process now of making outdoor dining more attractive as the weather cools—an investment for both the brewery and a thank you to those whose loyalty makes it possible to soldier on.

“We are closing in part of the patio, and adding heat so customers can still come in and be comfortable. They can continue having dogs join them, which has been a big hit with everyone.”

While Berk and Melhus said Norway Downtown has no specific events currently planned for customer appreciation, as the pandemic has taken a turn towards the more serious again and they don’t want to encourage crowds at this time, last summer Main Street retailers collaborated on a day of thanks.

“People love what Main Street has become and they are making a concerted effort to help us survive,” Berk said. It is pretty awesome.”

 

 

 

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