BAR HARBOR — The fall tourist season has been a mixed bag for Bar Harbor retail shop owners who have experienced ups and downs for the last nine months. For some, the cancellation of cruise ships and the convenience of online shopping during this year’s pandemic have had a negative impact, but, for others, pandemic purchasing has helped the bottom line.
Victoria Conner, owner of My Darling Maine Island Boutique, said she has made less this year than in 2019, and the irregularity of visitors this season has forced her to make difficult decisions about when to be open. At first, Connor closed on Sundays because she figured that day would be when visitors returned home for work, but then realized that was not the case. She then opened back up on Sundays and closed Tuesdays to accommodate folks here for long weekends, which didn’t exactly work either. She ultimately made the decision to close her store on Mondays and Tuesdays, but to offer a special concierge service for her clients. Forming a special “connection” with customers is important, said Connor, adding that while the number of transactions are down, her individual sale average is up quite a bit.
Other shops, including Penelope’s, Sailor & Hook and Patrick’s By The Sea, said they have also experienced a fair share of similar challenges this year, but did not elaborate with specifics.
With visitors extending their vacations into the fall season, hotels, such as the Harborside and the Bar Harbor Inn, are staying open later into the season, which is a sign that there is still a demand for visitor accommodations.
Other downtown retail shops, including Window Panes, Sherman’s Book Shop and Paradis True Value, say they have not witnessed any decline in sales for the fall season.
Window Panes co-owner, Julie Veilleux, said she was not expecting fall sales that were right on par with the previous years, but the home goods store owner says that it is now clear that the influx of seasonal cruise ship passengers spend less money than regular visitors. “The fact that the town is not overrun with thousands of people makes it easier,” said Veilleux, as she highlighted the importance for Bar Harbor to understand the market of New England first timers. The recent update to the shop’s website, in addition to offering curbside pickup, has helped the business over the last many months.
Though this time of year would be the height of the cruise ship season for Sherman’s Book Shop, the number of visitors keep it feeling just as steady as it typically would. Store manager Mica Perruzzi has an inkling that “holiday shopping will be done early, with people anticipating the need to ship gifts to their extended family and friends as opposed to seeing them in person at the end of December.”
Paradis True Value, a store that is an indirect beneficiary of the cruise ship business, has experienced a different customer base this year as people have focused on home improvement projects. Owner Paul Paradis said he has experienced less shoppers from the hospitality industry and more customers doing DIY projects at home. “In totality, the business for the fall is about the same,” said Paradis.
In an attempt to help Bar Harbor businesses add to their bottom line, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Halloween Costume Sale on Oct. 31. The event seeks to replace the canceled Pajama Sales & Bed Races that help bring business to local retailers. Thus far, participating stores that include My Darling Maine Boutique, Patrick’s By The Sea, Window Panes, Alpenglow Adventure Sports, Atlantic Brewing Midtown, Bar Harbor Book Shop, Cool as a Moose, Bar Harbor Hemporium, Debbah’s, Fair Trade Winds, Geddy’s Down Under, Indigo Blues, Inspirations of Eden, La Rochelle Mansion and Museum / Bar Harbor Historical Society, Penelope’s, Restaurant Barn, Sea Dawg, and Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop will be offering discounts for shoppers with or without costumes ranging from 10-50 percent off. For more information, go to the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce website at visitbarharbor.com.