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Updated: January 11, 2021 2021 Economic Forecast

2021 forecast for Maine's retail businesses: 'Long haul’ in store, but maybe a silver lining too

Photo / Tim Greenway Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine.

Last year was a mixed bag for Maine retailers, to put it mildly, with many smaller stores struggling for survival while others built up their ecommerce platforms and even thrived during the pandemic. It remains to be seen what 2021 will bring.

“Uncertainty is the only word I can use,” says Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Augusta-based Retail Association of Maine. “It’s definitely going to be a long haul.”

Speaking as the holiday shopping season was underway, he noted that the full picture won’t become clear until around mid-February when the hard data is in.

He holds up Mexicali Blues and Renys as examples of retailers able to shift gears during the pandemic, citing Mexicali Blues’ unique clothing product line and investments by both in their ecommerce platforms.

“If there’s a silver lining in all of this,” Picard says, “perhaps it is that it continued to get easier for people to shop online, even at small retailers.” But he also notes that there is no replacement for in-person shopping.

Although Renys’ owners “made some investments in their ecommerce platform,” Picard says “they still know the majority of consumers prefer to shop in person. That speaks to me that there’s not one plan that’s going to work for all retailers, which leads to the overall uncertainty.”

Other unknowns include when Portland’s new $18-an-hour “hazard pay” minimum wage requirement will take effect, and what additional federal stimulus and support will come down the pike in 2021, he adds.

Further expansion for Sea Bags?

Among Maine-based retailers that enlarged their footprint in 2020, Sea Bags went from 25 to 38 stores — it’s now in 14 states — and seized on opportunities to open an unplanned additional five stores last fall.

Asked about further expansion, CEO Don Oakes says, “I would be surprised if we didn’t open any new stores in the coming year, and we most certainly plan to continue our tradition of Black Friday and holiday pop-ups.”

Oakes is also confident that the Portland-based maker and seller of totes, bags and accessories from recycled sails is in a strong position for whenever the recovery starts in 2021.

“I think the best way to describe our mindset is cautiously optimistic, with a touch of conservatism,” he says. 

Photo / Courtesy Sea Bags
Don Oakes, CEO of Sea Bags

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