BAR HARBOR — The family business Christmas Spirit Shop turns 30 this year, as owners Beverly and Pete Bono look to retire. They are hoping to pass the torch after being open 30 summers and Christmases. The shop specializes in ornaments and gifts handmade in America.
“The shop’s totally unique,” Pete Bono said. “We offer personalizing and lettering, and build-your-own ornaments. It’s not just another Christmas shop.”
The idea sparked from a hobby.
In their former lives, in Florida, Pete was an executive in a medical electronics company and Bev was a medical technologist.
Wherever they traveled, the couple liked to collect Christmas ornaments as souvenirs. Though often, Beverly said, “we couldn’t find anything that was locally made, or even American made.”
The Bonos also had a fondness for Downeast Maine, where they spent weeks each summer. So they decided to move here and “open the Christmas shop we’d always wanted to find,” he said.
Beverly, an oil painter, made contacts with artists to supply the shop, becoming, as Pete says, “the artist behind the artists.”
The couple found a storefront on Route 3 in Trenton, and opened for business in June 1990.
Despite bright red signs on the roadside, “it was hard to flag down customers,” Beverly said. When they did stop, she said, some of them would say, “we just spent all our money in Bar Harbor.”
So the Bonos opened a shop in Bar Harbor in 1992, first at Bayside Landing, then at the 1897 Grant Building at 80 Main Street. The three-story, 4,401-square-foot building has high ceilings and large windows.
“Location is key when you’re a retailer,” Pete said. “You need foot traffic. There’s no better place than Bar Harbor.”
Like many retailers in town, Christmas Spirit Shop was seasonal. However, Pete explained, “being a Christmas shop, he have been open every Christmas for the locals.”
To earn more revenue in the slow season before internet sales were common, the Bonos ran kiosks in local malls starting in 1992. They had a kiosk in Ellsworth’s Maine Coast Mall, followed by the Bangor Mall, and eventually the Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem, NH.
“The malls at that time were thriving,” Pete remembered, “they were where the energy was. Rents were steep, [but] we were extremely successful in the malls.” The Bonos ran the kiosks while their manager ran the shop each November and December.
By 2002, with internet sales replacing mall sales, the Bonos closed the kiosk business and began to focus on their website.
The shop has seen three generations of customers. One family who came into the shop in 1990, with the youngest in a baby carrier, still stops in on their vacations, Beverly said. “Now the kids have kids.”
“Our business has become a tradition for customers all over the world,” Pete continued. “When I think about all the people that we’ve touched, that’s gratifying.”
Many customers and suppliers have become friends over the years, Beverly added. “In some ways it’s hard to walk away from,” she said.
In retirement, Beverly plans to do more oil painting. She has an art show at Jesup Memorial Library for the month of October. Pete plans to continue volunteering for the Chamber of Commerce and the town; he currently serves on the Design Review Board.
The couple plans to stay in Bar Harbor. “We haven’t found any other place we want to live,” said Beverly. “We’ve already lived in Florida.”
But before they retire, they hope to find someone who wants to take over their business, which is for sale for sale by the owner.
The Main Street building is also for sale separately, listed with the Swan Agency.
“We have so many loyal customers who tell us they stop [at our shop] first,” Pete said. “What we don’t want to do is shut the business down. We want to assure [our customers that] we’re doing all we can.”