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A check on small Bangor businesses 2 years after start of COVID-19

Jolain's Gourmet Catering shifted gears to survive, and Antique Alley closed for good.

BANGOR, Maine — For many businesses, big and small, the pandemic has felt like a rollercoaster ride, as they try to keep their heads above water.

Fortunately for Tropical Tastes and Styles, the Bangor shop recently re-opened its doors.

After being closed for two years, owner Angela Okafor said she felt confident enough to restock the store. As well as unique, international items, she has African-inspired clothes and even a hair braiding section.

Okafor said her shop fulfills an unmet need in the region.

"We don't carry the typical things you will see at Walmart or Shaw's or Hannaford, so we try to provide those services that people are not able to find here," Okafor said. "I worried. I was scared I wasn't going to be able to get back here, but we have received so much support from the community."

Okafor said her shelves are now stocked, and she's holding an official reopening on Saturday at noon at her store location at 347 Harlow St. in Bangor.

"The pandemic forced us to shut our doors due to, of course, having children and too many other personal and life issues," Okafor said.

Frozen items.

Frozen: Snails/escargot, Fresh bitter leaves, Molokhia/Ewedu/kerenkere/Taro leaves Cassava leaves, Attieke/Couscous Fanti Kenkey Frozen raw cassava/Akpu/ Placali

Posted by Tropical Tastes and Styles International market on Thursday, February 17, 2022

"We have food and stuff from Africa, from the Caribbean. We have some Asian. We have from the Hispanic countries," Okafor said. 

She says the community's love and support have provided her with the push she needed to turn the lights back on.

"There were so many times I worried," she said. "I was scared I wasn't going to be able to get back here."

Some businesses have had to pivot their plans and try other ideas to stay profitable.

In Greater Bangor, for example, Jolain's Gourmet Catering & Event Planning went from mostly wedding catering to packaging and selling their mac 'n' cheese.

With so many weddings canceled, the company owner turned to making and delivering products to small-town supermarkets.

"It just blossomed from there, with other people asking for it and so on and so forth. So here we are, a year and a half later," Jolain Cameron said. "It was a year in November, and it's a pretty busy product."

Now his mac 'n' cheese is available at the Paradis Shop'n Save in Brewer; Tozier's Family Market in Brewer, Searsport, and Bucksport; at the IGA in Orono and Calais; at Danforth's Down Home Supermarket in Hermon; and at the Corner Store on Hammond Street in Bangor.

"In an effort to try and get some income, more regular income just to be able to have the business survive, I thought, 'You know, this mac 'n' cheese is very popular,'" Cameron said.

His creative side business is precisely what has has kept him in business.

"Now people can just take it from the refrigerator to oven and bake it off, and it would be exactly like what they would have at one of our events," Cameron said.

You asked for it , we got it! Jolain's Gourmet “Bacon”Mac & Cheese! The following stores have it on their shelves as we...

Posted by Jolain's Gourmet Catering & Event Planning on Friday, March 5, 2021

Unfortunately, not every business has been able to bounce back. 

Antique Alley in downtown Bangor, for example, has closed after its owner died from COVID. The family has said it plans to sell the business later this year. 

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