“For as weird as this year has been, I have done well,” Jennifer Gammon of Lewiston said about online sales of her artwork. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — After months of delivery and curbside-only sales, Courtney Schlachter is reopening her Lisbon Street bookstore on Black Friday, not “to shove holiday materialism down everyone’s throats,” she told customers this week, but “because I have expenses to pay on my store and I don’t want to lose it.”

Artist Jennifer Gammon of Lewiston had six outlets to sell her pottery last year, including two buy-local events. With that wiped out, she invested in gift boxes for the first time to ship direct to customers and spent the week building up holiday inventory.

“It really makes a difference in my life when I sell a mug,” Gammon said.

In Auburn, GameStop staff were readying for still-secret Black Friday sales but weren’t planning to swing the doors open at midnight as in years past.

In 2020, even the holiday shopping is different.

Midnight lines for Black Friday sales at Walmart, Kohl’s, JCPenney and GameStop are out. Shop Local Saturday events are also largely retooled due to the pandemic: This year, think more Shop Local Over The Next Four Weeks instead.

“It goes counter to what retailers have always done which is try to drive crowds into your store in this critical period,” Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said. “The reality is we all want to keep people safe as well, so it’s been less focused on individual days and more about making sure people understand what you’re offering and how people can take advantage of it, whether that’s in-store or online.”

He was encouraged by the National Retail Federation’s forecast projecting November and December sales will be up nationally 3.6% to 5.2% over last year, with online sales making up about one-quarter of that.

After a trying year, consumers are ready to treat themselves and loved ones to a “better-than-normal holiday,” according to the NRF.

Always a wildcard in Maine, though, is the weather, Picard said.

A weekend storm “can really throw Maine off from what is expected at the national level,” he said. “Of course, this year with the pandemic, you have to think about the weather but you have to think about everything else … We’re hopeful that there won’t be any further restrictions on retail operations, but we want to make sure the people are staying safe and that we’re able to get through the holiday season in one piece.”

Very generally, outdoor equipment sales have been strong, Picard said, in addition to home improvement and pet-related sales.

“In the past few years, we’ve had a trend of consumers wanting to buy more experiences, whether it’s dining out or travel, and obviously those things are much more difficult right now, so some folks are wondering if those dollars are going to be redeployed into stuff, consumables,” he said.

Locally, Walmart, Kohl’s and JCPenney will open at 5 a.m. and GameStop at 7 a.m. on Black Friday, according to store staff and corporate spokespeople, but that trend away from midnight had been in motion pre-pandemic, Picard said.

“They found out they weren’t doing that many incremental sales between midnight and 5 a.m. because of the availability of people being able to shop online,” he said.

Bull Moose Music in the Promenade Mall will open at 8 a.m. on Black Friday for limited edition Record Store Day vinyl releases in addition to ongoing sales.

“Every Record Store Day customer will have a few minutes alone with the records,” Chief Financial Officer Chris Brown said.

Shanna Cox, president of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, has been encouraging members to register for Bangor Savings Banks’ new Buoy Local app and rewards program, a statewide effort with 1,300 merchants in Maine and New Hampshire signed up already.

“(It’s important) to really support our smaller retail locations having an online presence,” Cox said. “This year in particular — and it has been a trend for retail in general — they’re competing with significantly larger online retail shops. … I think our biggest message is shop local if you can, support local businesses that are investing in our communities and employ and circulate local dollars.”

Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer issued a proclamation supporting Nov. 28 as Small Business Saturday.

Retail here supports neighbors’ jobs and attracts investment, he said. But like others, he’s balancing the message with being careful.

“The COVID numbers are concerning and every business that I have spoken with is concerned,” Cayer said. “The key to supporting our local business community is to shop/dine local, but (also) we do all that we can to slow the spread, so a shutdown doesn’t happen or if it does to a lesser degree.”

Sheri Whithers-Hollenbeck said she plans to set up a pop-up shop at MEDco on Saturday representing The Hive Arts, offering its new subscription boxes with work from seven area artists.

“But just me doing sales to keep everyone else safe,” she said.

Gammon, who has a piece in the box, said after getting over the initial stress of the pandemic last spring, she hit the studio with new ideas.

“Those new ideas started selling and right now I am on track to do better this year than last” — if the holiday comes through, she said. While concerned, “I am also very hopeful things will be different but work out after all.”

Schlachter is reopening Quiet City Books with an inventory that includes books, postcards and ornaments and a limit of three people inside at a time.

“I always encourage people to shop locally when possible, and I hope that will still be on people’s minds this year, even if it means local businesses, artists and makers are being supported with online orders,” she said. “The challenges presented by the pandemic have been stressful, but I will keep trying to stay creative about getting books out there.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.