Retailer: The Good Table
Location: Belfast, Maine
Owner: Vicki Tarbell
Square footage: 4,000 sq. ft.
The sleepy town of Belfast, Maine, has changed since Vicki Tarbell first opened her store, The Good Table, in 1989.
Buoyed by the stunning mid-coast Maine scenery, the area has grown as a vacation destination for summer visitors and residents from, as they say in Maine, “away,” and merchants like Tarbell have had to keep up with the changing tastes of the sizable summer crowd.
Tarbell credits her manufacturer’s representatives for keeping her product assortment on point. “I work well with my manufacturer’s reps,” she says, pointing out that while remote, Belfast is in a similar territory to the Bar Harbor area, a tourist mecca with several kitchen stores. “There are stores in Ellsworth, stores in Bar Harbor, it is well worth their time to come up here,” she says. “But I am also lucky to have a great group of reps.”
That said, to fill the two-story, 4,000 (give or take) square-foot space, Tarbell keeps busy on buying trips as her store stocks a wide mix of housewares, from textiles to barware and candles, placemats, napkin rings, cookware, barbecue accessories and pretty much anything else a summer resident could possibly need.
“I don’t have product hanging off the ceiling, but it is pretty full,” Tarbell says of her store. She does this all without a POS system: “We do sales the old-fashioned way, we write sales slips.” That wide range of merchandise is one of the features Tarbell says makes her store special, and a good reason she has been in business in a remote area for so long.
In addition to the manufacturer’s reps, she credits buying trips and keeping up with trade journals as ways to stay on trend, which her summer residents expect of her store.
It also helps business that Belfast is a walking-friendly city, especially the historic downtown where The Good Table is located, something that appeals to summer visitors. (Tarbell moved the store two doors down from its original location years ago, but kept the Main Street vibe.) Those summer residents and visitors are her key customers, she says. “My summer resident population has definitely made a huge difference,” she says. “I would not be in business without them.” And she caters to the whims of those visitors, going so far as to special order items like a “leg of lamb holder,” which has been the store’s most unusual order item. So far.
Less unusual is the store’s extensive collection of cookbooks, which Tarbell refers to as her “cookbook library,” even though she sells rather than rents the books.
Like many local stores in downtown districts, The Good Table has events to lure customers from the streets into the store. To that end, The Good Table shows off its community spirit by hosting book signings, like one last winter for local author Malia Dell’s cookbook, Food That Works.
And Tarbell also has some fun on the store’s Facebook page, where a “Name That Tool” contest is popular with customers. (A recent stumper was a Jalapeño corer.) Such events have won the store a devoted FB following, with five stars and praise like “Great product and a friendly helpful and patient staff” from a customer.
It is her staff, who are mostly part time, that Tarbell says makes the biggest difference for her store. When asked what makes her store special, she replies, “It is the customer service we provide.”