By Peter L. McGuire
OXFORD HILLS — A succession of businesses have opened or expanded in past months and the additions may mean a new sense of optimism in the area.
A number of businesses, aside from the Oxford Casino, have sprung up in the past four months – The Inn at Pinnacle Mountain and AAH Fireworks in West Paris; Hart’s Classic Auto in Oxford; The Brew-Ha coffee shop and Havoc Fireworks in Paris; and TCorp, Green Machine Bike Shop and soon Mizz Lizz This That and Then Some Consignment in downtown Norway.
In addition, Creaser Jewelers in South Paris is expanding into a brand new building.
Glen Holmes, Director of the Western Maine Economic Development Council, says the economic climate in the area is looking up.
“From the things I’m seeing in the local area, we are seeing some positive movement,” says Holmes. “My call volume has seen an uptick in the last couple of months and talking to code-enforcement officers and lumber yards, they’re starting to see an uptick.”
Holmes is quick to point out that while growth isn’t huge, it still points to growing optimism, particularly in an area that has struggled economically. He feels more confident now than when he took the position at WMEDC in January.
“Things then were not great,” he says, “but this summer, I’ve been talking to people and they all seem more positive. We have some businesses in the Oxford Hills area that are growing for sure … double-digit growth in some cases.”
John Williams, the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, says the group continues to attract more members and says the casino has spurred growth in the area.
According to Williams, increased traffic flow has encouraged some larger businesses, such as the Best Western hotel chain to look into building in the area.
Williams agrees there is more optimism in the air, despite persistent economic issues.
“We still have tremendous economic challenges in this area, as we do in the rest of the state,” Williams says.
“I don’t think that any of that has necessarily gone away in the short-term. I think what’s happening now is, there’s more optimism in the area.”
For the owners of The Brew-Ha, the drive-through coffee shop that opened in South Paris in June, it was dismay with poor job prospects in the area, rather than optimism, that motivated them to open.
“In this area, if you don’t become your own boss, you aren’t going to make any money,” says co-owner Deb Carroll. “Working for somebody else at $7.50 just doesn’t cut it.”
Co-owner Pam “Benni” Bennett says that they preferred to take a chance and start up a business rather than work for someone else.
“I figured, doing it ourselves, we’d only have to answer to ourselves and it only hurts ourselves,” says Bennett.
So far, it has paid off – Bennett says business has been stronger than expected and she suspects The Brew-Ha may need to expand soon.
Dennis and Julie Creaser of Creaser Jewelers feel optimistic enough about their impending move to a new building that they already have plans for further development.
“Eventually we plan on putting another retail rental place next to us, probably in the next five to 10 years … we’ll try to find somebody that is going to go well with our business,” says Dennis.
The couple is excited to expand their footprint and hopefully bring development to their corner of South Paris.
“This little area is probably the only area left that hasn’t been fully realized in South Paris and it would be great if we could be a part of making this … more of a merchant-based area,” Dennis says.
Peter Tousley, the President of TCorp says there were a number of reasons he selected Norway to open the company’s second office.
“The tax incentives to open a business, especially an energy business, are better here than they are most parts of the state,” he says. “This is a depressed area, so we looked at it from a financial standpoint.”
But Tousley says he has been visiting the area for years as a summer resident and he has a vested interest in seeing Oxford Hills thrive.
Missy Roussel, the owner of Mizz Lizz, says she doesn’t necessarily feel the economic climate is better, but she sees a need for a “gently-used” clothing store in the area.
Roussel is also excited about her location – she’s confident the foot traffic on Main Street in Norway will bring in customers, and is grateful for the encouragement she has received from the community.
Oxford Hills still faces stiff challenges – last week Maine Machine Products laid off 8 percent of its workforce and the abrupt April closing of the CCS call center inOxford left 60 people out of work.
Despite the challenges, Williams senses a new feeling of optimism in Oxford Hills, an encouraging sign for an area that has struggled in years past.
“I think what we’re hearing from a lot of businesses is … ‘let’s get working at trying to create more of a hopeful image in the Oxford Hills than we’ve been seeing here for a number of years,'” he says.