April 05, 2020

Skowhegan seeks to lure businesses downtown> Local firms offer heated office space, furniture

SKOWHEGAN — Skowhegan’s Downtown Business Association members looked around recently, saw empty storefronts and decided they wouldn’t get filled all by themselves.

“We came to realize that there was no way the DBA could accomplish filling these empty spots. We needed a marketing expert,” said Becky Dionne on Friday.

Dionne, co-president of the DBA and owner of The Blueberry Cupboard gift shop, helped kick off a $50,000 fund-raising campaign this week.

“Ultimately we will go seeking grant money, but we must first show we have local support,” she said.

Already that support is piling up. With a target of $50,000, more than $11,000 in cash, office space and office furniture and supplies have been offered. Those who have donated so far include Skowhegan Savings Bank, $5,000; DBA, $5,000; Skowhegan Credit Union, $500; and Skowhegan town employees, $500.

In addition, Skowhegan Fleuriste has offered heated office space for a year, and the Paper Klip will furnish the office.

Dionne said the DBA is being realistic. “We can’t anticipate attracting major chains downtown,” she said. “They prefer strip malls and malls. But we can look toward a compatible mix of sole-proprietor businesses, specialty shops similar to what exists now.

The fund raising is being called “Project Downtown.” The $50,000 to be raised will be used as salary and expenses for a marketing person for one year. After that, the town will seek federal grants to allow the position to continue.

According to Skowhegan’s economic director, Jeff Hewitt, a marketing person would work with the already established downtown businesses as well as traveling to find new businesses. The person also will be expected to promote, through steady visibility, a positive image for Skowhegan.

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