Despite a struggling economy and a slow winter, many local Brunswick businesses are thriving thanks to faithful customers from the Bowdoin community.
“Surprisingly, things have been great here,” said Sydney Wall, manager of Wild Oats Bakery. “We’re always seeing new people.”
“Even with the seating we have now it’s still not enough,” said Wall, referring to the 2010 expansion of the bakery's seating area.
Last spring, some of Brunswick’s downtown businesses began accepting OneCards as a form of payment. This program has been met with mixed results. Big Top Deli, one of the first businesses downtown to accept the Bowdoin OneCard, has stopped taking them.
“The system wasn’t fast enough for our sales,” said Tony Sachs, owner of Big Top. “It took forever.”
“Every time we swipe that card, we’re paying. Whether or not it goes through, you pay an interchange fee,” said Sachs. “When it wasn’t working, students had another form of payment.”
Sachs explained that while it costs him roughly 3.5 percent per transaction with a credit card, it cost him over 10 percent per transaction with the OneCard.
“I wish it was different,” he said.
Gulf of Maine Books, the only bookstore left in Brunswick after outlasting Borders and another bookstore that left Brunswick, is doing well despite the national trend of consumers purchasing books online rather than in stores.
“We had a good Christmas season,” said Beth Leonard, co-owner of Gulf of Maine Books.
This year, the bookstore is gearing up for its thirty-fourth anniversary.
“Interviewing this business is different than interviewing other businesses because the book world is in a state of flux with e-books,” said Leonard.
“We have a loyal customer base,” she said of Brunswick residents.
“I actually worked for the federal government and I retired and we’re married so we have healthcare through the federal government,” she said.
“We probably wouldn’t have been able to stay in business” without the healthcare and pension plan.
Little Tokyo (72 Maine Street), one of Brunswick’s many Asian-style restaurants, is now picking up after their wintertime lull.
Theresa Chen, manager of Little Tokyo, notices a significant difference during periods when students are not on campus.
“We realize how much we miss you guys,” said Chan.
Despite Aki Sushi’s location being one block away from Little Tokyo, “nothing exists where there isn’t a demand for it,” she said.
“It was very unusual for us to hear that the next block over would have a restaurant doing variants of our business. It was just odd.”
Chan added that Brunswick must have a high demand for Asian-style restaurants.
“Asian people are efficient,” she said.
Paul Harrison, owner of Little Dog Coffee Shop at 87 Maine Street, was pleased to say that business was doing well and even better than last year, despite the media’s barrage of fiscal cliff and healthcare overhaul anxiety.
“I know it didn’t influence my thinking,” said Harrison, regarding the national policies. “I’m sure if payroll taxes went up, I would really notice.”
Regarding the price relevancy between his coffee shop and the competition of Wild Oats and Bohemian Coffee House, Harrison noted that people don’t come to Little Dog just to get the cheapest cup of coffee, but for its high quality products and atmosphere as well.
Harrison added that he tries to reinvest in his company with extra money, particularly when something needs replacement.
He noted that he is “pretty damn glad” that they are located near the College, noting that students love to do homework at his café and purchase food and drinks while they work.
Many of the businesses interviewed agreed that owning a business in Maine is unique because there are fewer big business and corporate chains.
“I buy from the guys who own the Gelato store. I go buy Gelato, they come buy here for lunch,” said Big Top owner Tony Sachs. “Our insurance actually came down” over the past couple years.
“I think the economy is more what you hear on the news,” noted Sachs.