PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Aroostook County holiday shoppers are saying goodbye to the one-day Black Friday frenzy, ditching their internet orders and shopping local.
Businesses from Houlton to the St. John Valley have reported brisk sales this season, with apparel, decor and jewelry among their top sellers this season.
Inflation and increases in heating fuel and electricity have squeezed consumers around the state. But some retailers in the County say holiday sales are better than last year, bringing them back to pre-pandemic levels. Not only are people buying more gifts locally, but they’re more determined than ever to celebrate, no matter what the cost of living.
“When it comes to shopping in stores, I think the pandemic has really helped the people of Maine show the value of supporting their local businesses,” said Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Maine Retail Association in Augusta. “I think people have become more aware of it.”
And there is another interesting twist. Millennials — those born in the 1980s and 1990s — generally disliked shopping in stores, he said. But Gen Z, who followed it, is leaning toward in-store experiences.
The image echoes a Nov. 3 forecast by the National Retail Federation that while online sales will continue, more shoppers will return to in-person shopping. The federation had forecast holiday sales to grow 6 percent to 8 percent over 2021, despite inflation.
Maine usually follows the national track, Picard said. Retail association members reported a solid back-to-school season, with Thanksgiving sales trending upward in what felt like the first normal holiday shopping season since 2019.
“I know a lot of people aren’t shopping online this year. They shop local, so when they see it, they buy it,” said Jamie Forsman, manager of Trader Joe’s Outpost in Presque Isle.
Forsman said many of the store’s customers are waiting for big sales or deals. The Black Friday push is spread throughout the season, which means a steady stream of shoppers before Thanksgiving.
All types of outerwear – jackets, hats, gloves and boots – are popular gifts. The store also sells other shoes, clothing and snowshoes and outdoor items.
Forsman said people who are new to the area contribute a lot to sales because they come unprepared for winter and buy a lot of cold-weather clothing.
According to Sam Corey at Robert’s Jewelry in Madawaska, jewelry has grown in popularity since the pandemic.
Corey said the jewelry business has experienced some unique growth during the COVID-19 restrictions. People couldn’t gather to celebrate with their loved ones in traditional ways, so many chose jewelry to express their love.
Sales of lab-created diamonds are up this holiday season.
“For a lot of people, especially in our area, you get a lot for your money — big, big sparkle, but it’s a fraction of the cost of traditionally mined diamonds,” Corey said.
More people are spending their money locally, he said. Sales are higher than last year and largely unaffected by inflationary pressures.
Shoppers didn’t let higher prices elsewhere affect their holiday spending, said Patty Corriveau, owner of Thistle Stop Design, a florist and antique restoration shop in Caribou.
“Whether it was gas or groceries, it didn’t stop us from having Thanksgiving, and it won’t stop us at Christmas,” Corriveau said. “Being together with family is a very important thing, especially going through a pandemic.”
Corriveau creates compositions with old barrels and logs filled with pine, fir, juniper, red dogwood and other branches. They are particularly popular with customers, both at home and abroad, he said.
Sales at her shop were brisk even during the pandemic, as people could not physically gather and send each other flowers and gifts. Now, he said, he’s busier than ever.
Sales at Country North Gifts in Houlton are on par with pre-Covid-19 levels, Country North Gifts employee Shannon Cibic said.
Corkcicles insulated bottles and coffee mugs, which come in a variety of shapes and colors, have been very popular at the store, Cibic said.
“I would say we’re back to normal,” he said. “A lot of people came out [shopping].”
Business at Fort Kent’s Bogan Books appears to be slightly ahead of last year, owner Heidi Carter said. Although people are spending less, there are more customers overall, including some new faces.
“People, I think, are a little more careful about how they spend their money,” he said. “We sell a lot of gift certificates, but the value is a little lower this year.”
Books by Maine authors do well year-round, but are especially sought after during the holiday season. Currently, Stephen King’s new book “Fairytale” is popular. Customers are also interested in Celeste Ng’s Our Lost Hearts, Michelle Obama’s The Light We Bring, and Matthew Perry’s Friends, Lovers and the Big Bad Thing.