Making it work
Downtown businesses find the silver linings

As the seasons change, downtown merchants are looking ahead with cautious optimism. With safety protocols firmly in place – both for their employees and their customers – they're adapting to the "new normal" in hopes of delivering the same personalized, one-of-a-kind shopping & dining experiences their patrons have come to expect and love.

In today's newsletter, we shine a spotlight on six downtown businesses and the people who run them. You may not be able to see the smiles behind their masks, but one thing is abundantly clear: they are welcoming you back as warmly as ever. Our small businesses have always been there for us; now let's be there for them!
Lisa-Marie's Made in Maine, Inc. is a cherished, family-owned shop featuring one-of-a-kind products created by Maine Makers. Its dedicated and fun-loving staff (just look at them smizing* under those Maine Made masks!) continually uplift not only their customers and vendors, but also their fellow downtown merchants.

Marie Stewart Harmon, daughter of Lisa-Marie herself, has been instrumental this year in championing a message of health, safety, and kindness to our small business community and to customers near and far. Marie is featured in this wonderful Let's Be Kind PSA, reminding us all that just a little kindness can make a world of difference.

* Smize (verb): to smile with the eyes.
Yardie Ting in the Public Market House has brought big-time spice & flavor to Portland with authentic Jamaican dishes prepared with a modern twist. In June, owner Shannakay Wright celebrated her one-year anniversary in the Market with a heartfelt message to her many loyal fans: "Thank you for taking a chance and trying something new. Thank you for embracing my culture and love for food. Thank you for making my dreams come true. Now let's eat and be merry!"

Although the pandemic caused a big shift in spring & summer business, Shannakay kept up the momentum through online ordering, curbside delivery, and even a safe & socially distanced celebration of Jamaican Independence Day in August. "I missed my customers so much," she said. "It's so nice to see them coming back!"

Fun fact: Yardie Ting's three most popular dishes are jerk chicken, jerk tofu, and (believe it or not) oxtails! Try them all for lunch or dinner...and don't forget your plaintains!
Since opening in the summer of 2018, Maine Craft Portland has quickly established itself as a major venue for 200 Maine craft artists to exhibit and sell their work. The store itself is a spectacular space residing at the base of downtown Portland's historic Mechanics' Hall.

Manager and Curator Maria Wolff said: "Though our patronage may not be in the numbers we have seen before, the fewer coming in are more meaningful. Folks that were coming to their summer residences were driving more than flying, as were tourists. This allowed these shoppers to buy larger and/or more fragile items, as they are able to travel back home by car rather than flying. We saw a good deal of parents coming through from out of town dropping their children off to surrounding colleges this fall. They are big supporters of local craft."

Maria's colleague, Jaime Wing, added: "As many people are spending more time in their homes this year, we are seeing a trend of more home décor and wall art selling as they refresh their living and home office spaces. This has been a boon to our two dimensional and home goods craft artists!"

Did you know: The Maine Craft Portland store features original 1890’s fine cabinetry crafted by skilled tradesmen of the past. The historically sanctioned cabinetry now houses the work of craft artists of today, creating a wonderful visual experience for patrons as they explore the store.
David Wood Clothiers on Commercial Street has been a staple in fine men's clothing and personal style since 1978. Sara Hutchinson Brown, Partner at David Wood, serves on Portland Downtown's board of directors – and she co-chairs our Merchant and Marketing & Event Committees.

Reflecting on this most unusual time, Sara said: "Going into our 43rd year of business at David Wood Clothiers, we are fortunate to have our dedicated staff, strong relationships with our vendors – and, of course, our loyal customers. After modifying our fall/winter projections and working hard each day to achieve the new goals – our focus has also been to provide a safe and fun shopping environment. A handful of customers have mentioned that we were their first in-person experience (outside of the grocery store) in months, so we want them to enjoy stopping in, catching up and talking 'shop.' We love what we do, and look forward to being part of Portland's style for many years to come."

Sara has been helping Portland Downtown creatively reimagine our holiday events, including Merry Madness. Stay tuned for some big announcements later this month!
When its bar & lounge was forced to close due to state orders, Vena's Fizz House pivoted swiftly and confidently. In addition to creating an inviting outdoor space perfect for sipping craft cocktails & mocktails, Vena's fine-tuned and expanded its own line of products including Grab-N-Go Cocktail Kits, Infusion Jars, and even Homeschool Supply Kits for Cocktail Chemistry 101!

Mary Jo Marquis, Director of Business Development, said: "With the structure of our business model being two-fold, when COVID-19 hit, we were forced to close the venue but it allowed us to turn and put 100% of our focus on the production end of the business. We produce a line of beverage making products that we sell direct to consumer online and through wholesale accounts. We feel so fortunate that we've had that to lean into to keep us going. We also took our mixology classes online to offer virtual sessions through Zoom. In a time when people were needing to stay connected, the response to that has been tremendous."

At a recent Portland Downtown Merchant Meeting, Steve Corman – Co-Owner & Bitterest Man in The World – said that Vena's Virtual Mixology Classes have allowed the company to reach a wider international audience. "FIZZ Ed" is a hit for people of all ages, all over the world!
Big moves are on the very near horizon for another local favorite: Uncommon Paws.

Owners Gudrun Cobb and Pete Smith said: "Uncommon Paws had a very good summer season with excellent foot traffic from both our local customers and repeat customers from away. Now we’re expanding. We’ll be going into the holiday season at 21 Exchange Street, the long-time location of The Paper Patch. We’re sad to see Rob Sevigny retire, but we’re thrilled to move Uncommon Paws after four years in space we had outgrown at 13 Exchange Street. Planning for our expansion is well underway and the renovations will be complete (fingers crossed) with a grand opening November 15."

Gudrun added: "Like most everyone, we emerged from the COVID-19 spring shutdown full of anxiety. But the summer re-kindled our optimistic spirit about Portland. We’re convinced our city and our customers from all over the country will continue to visit the Old Port year-round. And we’re going for it!"
Photos by Good Maine, Adam MacDonald, Lisa-Marie's Made in Maine, and Vena's Fizz House.