Businesses from Damariscotta’s Main Street and beyond set up stands, shelves, and tables on the sidewalk Saturday, June 13, for the first in a series of weekly open-air markets.
The Damariscotta Board of Selectmen agreed to close parking spaces on the post office side of Main Street between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. each Saturday in June in an effort to bolster business as shops struggle to stay afloat amid coronavirus-related restrictions and economic turmoil. The market may continue throughout the summer, depending on June’s results.
Cupacity owner Susan Murphy, an advocate for the market, said Saturday was among the coffee shop’s busiest days since it opened in March 2019.
Cupacity has offered curbside pickup for more than a week, but the model has not worked well for a business that aims to attract customers with its friendly and convivial atmosphere.
“It’s our environment that people like,” Murphy said. “Curbside has been very opposite to my vision.”
Saturday’s market allowed Murphy to resurrect a bit of the environment she designed the shop to foster, setting up two tables on the street outside her storefront. Her daughter, Olive, took orders from a window and cash register set up in the shop’s doorway as Murphy worked to prepare coffee drinks and serve wine, beer, and cider to masked customers thirsty from perusing wares in the midday sun.
Murphy worked with Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce Marketing and Membership Coordinator Lisa Hagen to plan the Saturday market.
“We accomplished what we set out to accomplish, which was to help local businesses, get people into downtown, and have everyone fall in love again with our community,” Hagen said.
Susan Chalmers, owner of Du Jardin, a soap and perfume shop in Damariscotta, was excited by the opportunity the market provided her business. Chalmers was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, and the autoimmune disorder places her at particular risk from COVID-19.
Due to her increased risk, Chalmers has not participated in local farmers markets or reopened the Du Jardin shop attached to her Hodgdon Street home.
“It’s been really hard,” Chalmers said. “I’ve done curbside pickup, but it’s not the same, because people need to come in and smell our soaps and perfumes.”
For her, the open-air market is the “perfect solution,” because it allows her to keep her distance from customers while also giving them the opportunity to smell the goods.
Other shop owners took a more tepid view of the market.
Jeff Curtis, owner of Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops, stopped by his Damariscotta shop Saturday.
Curtis’ Portland shop has been selling books outside since the city approved the closure of several streets in its Old Port district June 1. Curtis said he is not sure if open-air schemes will bolster lackluster sales at either his Damariscotta or Portland shops.
“I’ve gotten very good at putting wheels on bookshelves, that’s for sure,” Curtis said.
Vendors up and down Main Street agreed that, if nothing else, it was comforting to see the downtown area humming with activity.
“It’s so nice to see Main Street so vibrant,” said Sherman’s employee Chloe Deblois.
Judy Dumont, owner of Aboca Beads, echoed Deblois’ assessment.
“The best part is to be outside talking to people,” Dumont said.
Dumont’s business has been anemic since the pandemic forced her to close in March. She is guardedly hopeful that future Saturday markets will help recoup the lost business.
“It’s certainly not a negative,” Dumont said of Saturday’s market. “It’s definitely good for the community.”
Murphy agreed and took a longer-term view.
“It is very important to me that this Main Street survive,” Murphy said.
The market’s second iteration will take place Saturday, June 20 with one change. Stalls will begin to close down at 3 instead of 4 p.m., according to Hagen, in response to vendors’ observations that foot traffic declined sharply after 2:30.