Friday, November 28, 2014

Lighting up Windham for the holidays - By Michelle Libby

This year Windham has that holiday spirit. TIF money was set aside by the town council to decorate with lights located at major intersections and highly visible properties all over town. From the rotary circle at Route 202 and Route 302 to the lawn at Norway Savings Bank and the trees at Cross Insurance, the town is bubbling with excitement over the lights.  
“We hope to attract holiday shoppers into the mood. They are drawn to other places that get decorated through the holiday,” said town councilor Donna Chapman, who brought the proposal forward. “It’s so dark through North Windham this time of year.”

The Town and Economic Development director Tom Bartell contracted with Lucas Tree to string the lights and his department purchased the grapevine balls to wrap lights around. Two large signs, one that says “Season’s Greetings” and the other “Peace on Earth” are being delivered this week. 

“People have been thrilled (with the lights),” Bartell said. “All the comments from that one night at the rotary, they were very pleased. They say that we care.” Councilor Tommy Gleason said that he had gotten many calls to complement the lights and decorations. 
“Many of us wanted to be able to do something to bridge holiday spirit,” Bartell said. 

Bartell enlisted the help of Windham Town Clerk Linda Morrell to decide where to put many of the decorations and lights. Morrell, a decorating guru, according to those at the town hall, helped with colors at the rotary and convinced the public works to add a tree and a few lighted orbs to the space at the town hall. She has been the one coordinating the decorating at the town hall for years. “It’s exciting. I love Christmas,” she said. “It looks so magical,” she said of the lights in town.  

Lucas also decorated the local fire stations with wreaths and lights, replacing the red outline of lights from past years. 

The town purchased the lights, but the businesses on Route 302 are the one supplying the electricity to run them. The businesses helping are Seacoast Fun Park, Norway Savings Bank, Key Bank, Windham Shopping Plaza and Cross Insurance. The first company to step up to volunteer was People’s United Bank, however due to electrical difficulties, they were not able to participate, Bartell said. 

The decorating and decorations cost the town $34,000. Many of the items will be reused year after year. The grapevine orbs cost up to $500 for the large one and the signs are $5,000 each. 

The season’s greetings flags are also going up this week. Chapman hopes that the town can add onto the decorations a little more each year. 

“Next year it won’t cost as much,” Bartell said. “We want this to become part of our regular tradition.”
“We have a thriving small business community in the area,” Chapman said. She wants to see the town do everything it can to bring customers to the area. 

The lights are scheduled to go full power on Wednesday and will be up through New Year’s. On Saturday night an alleged drunk driver drove into the rotary, crashed into a tree totaling his car and setting one of the trees with lights on fire. He destroyed one of the balls and damaged another. 

“He wasn’t the brightest bulb at the rotary,” Chapman said. “We can fix the decorations. We want him to make good on restitutions. I’m thankful that no one was hurt.” 

Bartell asked that any businesses or property owners want to join in and add to the festivities and the mood to do it. “That would be wonderful,” Bartell said. “We care enough. It’s more about spirit. People felt like we were losing that community spirit. People really enjoy seeing and being a part of the community.”

Windham Christian Academy helps internationally through Operation Christmas Child - By Michelle Libby

Windham Christian Academy is reaching out this season to spread cheer to children in need in third world countries through Operation Christmas Child, a program run by Samaritan’s Purse an international relief organization. 
“It’s a collection of clothes and different hygiene things kids might want or need,” said 14-year-old Katie Willard. 

“It all starts when people decide to bless a child overseas through Operation Christmas Child. Individuals and families decide whether they will pack a shoebox for a boy or a girl and then look for gifts appropriate for a specific age range. Prayerful shoppers search for items to delight a child: A toy car or a jump rope, a slinky or a doll. They look for practical things like pencils and paper, and necessary items such as a toothbrush and toothpaste,” according to the website. 

Under the direction of teacher Jackie Sands and her advisory group of freshmen, the entire school donated items to go in the 16 shoeboxes that were delivered to a church in Naples and then sent to other countries. 
“Sixteen boxes…16 kids are going to get a Christmas present thanks to you guys,” Sands told her class. The students that worked on the project are Katrina Terry, Tyler Homer, Jordyn Merrill, Willard, Amanda Huang, Allison McAllister and Heather Frost. 

The class was brainstorming ideas for a project they could participate in. A few of them had worked on Operation Christmas Child before through various churches. They decided this was what they wanted to do. 

Each grade was asked to bring in something for the shoe boxes. 

The third and fourth graders brought in games. “They seemed pretty into it. They were proud of what they brought in,” said Willard. The youngest students were asked to bring in personal care items. One of the parents is a dentist and sent in toothbrushes, so each box has at least one toothbrush, if not four, the students said. One grade was asked to bring in coloring utensils and the sixth grade class was asked to bring in toys and the middle school students brought in socks, hats and mittens.  

The boxes were divided up by boy or girl and then by ages from two to 14. 

“It’s really a neat program,” said Sands.

In addition to the items, the boxes cost $7 each to ship. The freshmen raised the money though fundraisers like a Zumbathon and bake sales. 

The boxes are tracked and the class can see where and when their boxes reach their destination, be it in Africa, Central America or the Dominican Republic. 

Black Friday in Windham and Raymond: Smaller crowds, personal attention, great deals - By Elizabeth Richards

It’s almost upon us, that crazy day of shopping known as Black Friday, when deals galore are offered up, but often in limited supplies, promoting panic, chaos and downright rudeness among shoppers. Windham retailers get in on the fun, but many take a slightly different approach to the day as well.
Bull Moose Music’s Windham store, for instance, will open at 6 a.m. on Friday, and anticipates it being a very busy day, said company representative Chris Brown. However, a lot of things will be on sale all week he said, reducing the need for the scrambling, and allowing for more personal attention for shoppers. All Black Friday specials will be available online on Thursday, and many items will be on sale into Saturday and Sunday, or go on sale earlier in the week. 

“We try to do it differently. When we are planning for Black Friday, we try to have enough to go around,” said Brown. When sales draw new customers into the store, they don’t want them to leave disappointed, he added. “If we’re going to make a deal we want everyone to be able to access that deal.”  

Black Friday deals will include CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray videos and video games at 50 percent or more off, said Brown. Black Friday Record Store Day offers limited release recordings on vinyl starting at 8 a.m. These items are a big part of the excitement, Brown said, giving music fans the opportunity to find unique things, or collect something they really love.

Brown said that the retail area on Route 302 offers an option away from the crowds of the mall. “It’s nice to have that regional shopping area, and we’re happy to be a part of it,” he said. 

For Veronica Meyer, owner of Essentials in Raymond which carries a variety of local and New England handcrafted gift items including jewelry, Christmas ornaments, puzzles, and jams as well as children’s toys, Webkins and more, Black Friday is business as usual. Having only been open since May, this is her first experience with the busiest shopping day of the year. She said she anticipates the focus will be on the busier mall area, but added that it would be nice to have people stop in on their way back to find unique gifts with personal attention.

She offers more personalized attention at the store than customers will find at the mall, said Meyer. For instance, all purchases are presented in a nice bag with tissue paper, ready to give as a gift. Holiday bags will also be available at no extra charge, she said. 

Meyer isn’t planning to offer any special black Friday deals, but customers will receive a coupon for $5 off their next purchase of $20 or more. She said she hopes that local shoppers will realize that she has a lot of more unique gifts with a little extra special service to offer.   She also encourages people to support local businesses and avoid the crowds by shopping locally.

Essentials will be open Monday through Saturday after Thanksgiving, and will offer some special events such as a men’s night and a holiday open house, throughout the season. 

Bob Mills at Mills & Company in Windham said that Black Friday is a good day for them, but not great. Small Business Saturday, he said, is much better for them. 

While the store will open at 9 a.m. on Friday, an hour earlier than usual, and close an hour later on Saturday, at 7 p.m. instead of 6, they don’t play into the hype of cut-rate prices and crazy deals. They have a rule about non-vendor sponsored sales, Mills said. “When we lower the price on something at Mills & Co we do not raise it again.”  

They don’t raise their prices in order to lower them, as many large retailers do, he said. He gives a few reasons for this policy, including time, the expectation that the merchandise will sell at the price it’s marked at, and the fact that they want customers to be able to shop when they want. 

“If we were to put fictitious prices on our merchandise to give our customers a false sense of saving then it would undermine our customers’ confidence in us,” he said.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some deals to be found at Mills & Co. Their regular prices are often lower than suggested retail to begin, and for the weekend after Thanksgiving Wusthof Cutlery has some allowed sale prices, like the Gourmet Style 18 piece block set. Regularly sold at Mills & Co. for $299.99, this set will be $199.99 for the weekend. The 8-piece stainless steel Steak Knife box set also has a special weekend price. Mills & Co. regularly marks it at $79.99, but this weekend, the price is $49.99. Oxo has also come out with some cookware, and Mills said they have value priced these frying pans to start at $19.99. These prices will remain the same as long as the items are carried he said.

The fastest selling items in the store currently, Mills said, are alternative down comforters and blankets. “Our prices are very good on both items, much less than anywhere I have seen,” he said.

The Hometown Sears store, operated by Robert Yates, is offering all the deals made available by Sears for the weekend, without the need to travel for them. “We are loaded and ready to welcome all our local friends,” he said. “No need to drive, as you can buy it in Windham without the hassle of going to one of the mega malls.”  

The store will open at 12:01 a.m. on Black Friday, and stay open until 7 p.m. Saturdays hours will be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday they will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Almost everything is on sale, Yates said, and there are many early specials that end at 1 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

42nd Street tap dances onto the stage at WHS - By Michelle Libby

In a major undertaking, the cast and crew from Windham High School under the direction of Rob Juergens, hits the ball out of the park with a musical that keeps toes tapping and Broadway songs on the lips for days. 
Two years ago it was announced that WHS would be doing 42nd Street in order to give people who wanted to audition the chance to take tap dancing lessons. And over the last two weeks, the show came together with lights, sets and costumes. On opening night, the curtain went up on actors who were confident, bold and ready to dance for almost two hours straight. 

The story of 42nd Street is described as a play within a play and is that of fresh-faced Peggy Sawyer (Emily Gagne) just off the bus from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her nerves make her miss the audition for the 1933 show Pretty Lady directed by famous Broadway producer Julian Marsh (Jake Nobel).

Star Dorothy Brock (Jennifer Bernier) is asked to audition for the role, but bringing new meaning to the word diva, Brock is outraged at the insinuation that she can’t handle the role. Meanwhile, Peggy meets up with some of the “hoofers” and shows her dance moves to them. When Julian asks for one more dancer, Peggy is right there to accept the offer. 

Some drama with Dorothy Brock takes place between her old boyfriend Pat Denning and her “sugar Daddy” Abner Dillon. 

On opening night, someone bumps Peggy who trips and crashes into Dorothy, knocking her to the stage. Julian fires Peggy on the spot and cancels the rest of the show.

Dorothy's ankle is broken, and the show may close. The girls in the chorus tell Julian that Peggy Sawyer can fill the lead role, so he runs to the train station to stop her from returning to Allentown. He convinces her with a little song called “Lullaby of Broadway”. 

The rest of the story…is on the stage at the Windham Performing Arts Center this weekend only.
The cast was amazing and versatile, playing different parts in different shows. 

Senior Emily Gagne as Peggy Sawyer played the New York newbie with wide eyed optimism of someone who has the talent to be that one in a million that goes from nobody to star in the blink of an eye. Gagne indeed went from the chorus to Broadway star on the stage at WHS. Her tap dancing showed the amount of work she put into the show, looking flawless to the untrained eye.   

Jake Noble as Julian Marsh was convincing as a seasoned producer in his sharp business suit and dapper hairstyle. 

Dorothy Brock was played by senior Jennifer Bernier, who amazed the audience with her clear voice and considerable talent as an actress. I wanted to root for her as much as I wanted to give Peggy Sawyer a chance at stardom. 

Other standouts were Andrew Shepard at Bert Barry, Ali Wintle as “All the way Annie”, Jackie Gleason-Boure as Maggie Jones and Andrew Cooper and Ellie Joseph as Andy Lee. 

Behind the scenes were a crew of 20, costumers helping with the more than 300 costumes and numerous changes as well as a pit band of 12.

The music was amazing and had me checking the program to see who was the outstanding trumpeter. Under the direction of Richard Nickerson, the pit band drove the show from before the curtain went up until the curtain call. The pit included Sandy Barry on the sax and clarinet, Randy Crockett with trombone, Gabe Curtisbrown doing percussion, Kris Dow playing French horn, Cora Dykens on the clarinet, Scott Gordan wows on the trumpet, Daniel Juergens on drums, Seth Martin handles bass, Margaret McGovern on violin, Betty McIntyre on piano and David Young on guitar. 

If you like musicals, dancing and amazing singing, this is the show not to miss. 

The show closes after this weekend. See it Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22 at 7 p.m, and Sunday, November 16 at 4 p.m, at the Windham Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for children and seniors. Call 893-1742 for reservations or email Tickets can be purchased at the door.