The Green Store in Belfast, Maine, is a small business that not only supports but specializes in sustainable, eco-friendly products.
History of The Green Store
The Green Store started in 1993. Ellie explains the story of the store’s beginnings. “It was a poker game and somewhat drunken conversation between two married couples about what Belfast needed that it didn’t have, basically, a general store for the 21st century! Each of us contributed our own individual interest areas: solar and wind energy, alternative and holistic health, handmade paper and one-of-a-kind books and gifts, and durable, practical everyday items that were necessary, reusable, and functioned well. We scraped together a bit of money from friends and family and opened our doors knowing next to nothing about what we were doing. Six weeks later, we had sold through the inventory, and closed for two weeks to catch our breath and figure out how to run the business going forward. Over the years, we’ve had wonderful support from our community near and far, and also some amazing timing, such as the Y2K freak-out at the end of the millennium, the state and federal incentives toward energy efficiency and off-grid production, and the ongoing dialogue and attention paid to environmental impact and concerns that Maine has become characterized by.”
The Green Store has been in place since long before the green movement took root. “When we first opened in 1993,” Ellie says, “We were really on the front of the wave. Over the years, there have been many products that we first introduced to our community, carried for several years, and then stopped carrying because sales had slowed. This is because large stores such as Home Depot or Walmart had picked them up, and we no longer had to try to compete by selling items that can be found in many places. A success! Of course, we would have preferred not to see those products end up in large chain stores that have no concern for the wages being paid or the environmental impact of how a product is being produced. Our store is committed to fair trade principles and low environmental impact in production, materials used, and packaging. But that is a whole other story…”
On Being Green
“Sustainability is an issue we just can’t set aside,” Ellie says. “Although there has been a rapid rise in awareness and change in habits, led in large part by our children, we still live in a gluttonously consumerist society. The rate at which we purchase, consume, and throw away the stuff in our lives is absolutely shocking. Our entire culture is built upon consumption. It fuels our economy, defines our values, and drives our habits from birth onward. Although some things are changing on larger scales, such as paperless processes, fuel economy in heating, lighting, and transportation, the growth of the organic food industry, etc., we are still painfully far from getting at the root of the problem, which really is about our core human values and the consciousness we bring to the way we coexist on the planet. It really is the unfortunate and undeserved legacy we leave to our children, and it may not be soon enough to avert disaster.”
“With a mission to promote personal and planetary well-being, we provide simple, practical ways to make a positive difference.”
Slowly but surely, the values the Green Store holds, of sustainability and eco-responsibility, are spreading. “Certainly, ‘green’ has become a household word and a public concern, and this is wonderful,” Ellie continues. “We continue to always try to be among the first places that folks see or learn about the latest thing. We are continually on the lookout, and always responding whenever a customer tells us about something they may have seen somewhere else.”
The store gives back to the community as much as it can, and you’ll often find tips on sustainability on their facebook page. Ellie offers a few pointers. “Start at the beginning of the recycling triangle. Reduce: How much stuff do you really need? And if you do need it, what will become of it when you are done with it? Reuse: There are a dozen uses for a torn T-shirt, or a chipped cup, or the bag you picked up at the store. Recycle: Consider whether you will be able to recycle everything you buy or pick up. Styrofoam? No. Plastic? Perhaps, but every bit of plastic we produce is a poison in the waste stream. If you really must have it, buy products that are made from natural materials, with low environmental impact in their production, that are packaged minimally, and that are practical and durable in quality so that they will serve their function for a long time to come. Learn about the simplest solutions to everyday issues, such as cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, or packaging food in reusable glass or reused plastic bags, or composting your food waste rather than adding it to the waste stream. Reconsider your consumer habits. We didn’t always used to think that we needed a designated diaper bag, or a new backpack every year, or a TV or a handful of plastic pens in every room in the house, or a new vinyl shower curtain and bath mats every spring.”
What You’ll Find At The Green Store
The Green Store has, well, pretty much everything. Ellie runs down a sample of some of their inventory. “Kitchen compost buckets, palm oil candles, glass water bottles, recycled milk jugs, indoor/outdoor rugs, respun T-shirt scrap yarn SolMate socks, Bioshield oil finishes, American-made earthenware pickling crocks, fair trade alpaca sweaters, composting toilets, 10-stage water filters, baby slings, wraps, and cloth diapers, Vornado space heaters and humidifiers, recycled and tree-free greeting cards, and of course, our bumper stickers!”
You can find some unique and unusual items at The Green Store. Their inventory also includes plastic bag dryers, self-installed toilet bidets, beeswax impregnated muslin food wrap, ear candles, poly-whey floor finish from the by-product of producing Cabot cheese, milk paint, bamboo cutlery sets for lunch on the go, cooperative work-together-to-win board games, firestarters made from stub ends of church candles, and more. The Green Store also carries household items. “We carry a large selection of kitchen accessories and necessities, primarily made of wood, natural fibers, or stainless steel. We have many choices of non-toxic cleaning and laundry products. We carry energy efficient lighting, including CFLs and LED lightbulbs. We offer beautiful and inexpensive Japanese rice paper globes and lanyards. We also have several lines of natural paints and finishes, as well as flooring and area rugs.”
Events at the Green Store
The store holds occasional events. “As a small business in a small community, we have to keep our focus local. The events we hold at the store are generally about local issues we support, such as land conservation, animal and wildlife welfare, or local culture and art. We will be celebrating Earth Day on May 3 by having a weekend event to benefit the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance, by donating 10% of our sales to them for the weekend. They will be there to talk about their organization and sign up members.”
On Belfast and Maine
“I am proud to live in Maine, which I consider to be one of the more conscious places to live,” Ellie says. “And Belfast has been a fantastic community for our business. Although this community and the surrounding towns only number about 13,000 people, our business has thrived.” “Belfast has very salt-of-the-earth, blue collar roots. It is also a low-income county in Maine, so when the back-to-the-land movement was coming north in the 70’s and 80’s, land here was cheap and many of us came and stayed. There is a huge food and farming tradition here, evidenced by the Belfast COOP, as well as a plethora of craftspeople and artists. As always, luck has blessed us, too. We were fortunate to have made a decision to have the Route 1 bypass built, rather than having busy traffic through the downtown. Many people opposed that.
We had two different referendums to keep large box stores out of town, and narrowly avoided having Walmart here.
“Many people were disappointed when the box stores didn’t get to build in Belfast. When the credit card company came to town in the 90’s, there was fear that we were going to be bought out by an opportunistic industry. Perhaps, but we got 4,000 good-paying, clean jobs, and the empty asbestos-laden chicken plant on the waterfront was torn down along with rows of derelict buildings.
“Today, due in large part to the activism of many small business owners and a forward-looking city government, Belfast has a thriving downtown that supports numerous excellent restaurants, an active arts community, unique shops and venues, and many great events. Belfast is a destination for vacations, as well as a place for people -young families through older retirees- to come and stay.”
“Being a small business is an opportunity to be a change agent in your community,” Ellie says. “I am very active in our downtown association, which supports green spaces, the arts, cultural events and music, and a high quality of life for the people who live here. I have the opportunity to make decisions myself and to know that I am engaged in a right livelihood all the way down the chain, from where, how, and by whom it was produced, to how it is packaged, to how it got here, to how we display and sell it, to what people know about it when they buy it. And every dollar that is spent in my small business in my town recirculates for the good of my community at least ten times more. It’s awesome.”
We think so too.