Tim and Connie Messier of Messier Studios in Sherman, share a moment together while working the Southern Aroostook Trade Show in Houlton. The couple moved to the area from Massachusetts 40 years ago where they met while in art school. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Warmer weather drew nearly 2,000 Mainers to the annual Southern Aroostook Trade Show on Saturday and Sunday, Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jane Torres said.

The annual event — which the chamber was forced to cancel in 2020 and 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — has struggled to attract businesses back to the Millar Civic Center in Houlton, Torres said last year when she offered larger booths for less money. 

But this year’s two-day event drew much higher numbers, and Torres said it was an excellent turnout. 

“It’s the best number in over five years,” she said. “Saturday was really busy and they were selling a lot. The Girl Scouts [selling their famed cookies] really cleaned up.”

Some go to trade shows with dreams of buying a new tractor or elaborate ATV, some to learn about and support local businesses and some in search of a new treasure. This year, Mainers came from far northern Aroostook and as far south as Millinocket looking for specific items, according to Torres, who added that many come to see friends and neighbors they haven’t seen all year.

Two-year-old Beau Bither went to see the tractors, his parents said.

Adam Birther of Houlton and his two children Beau, 2, and Madelyn, 4, visit with guitar maker, Kevin Carpenter of Carp Guitars on Sunday afternoon during the Southern Aroostook Trade Show in Houlton. Credit: Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli / Houlton Pioneer Times

“The tractors are a big thing for him,” said Mom, Haley Bither of Houlton.

About 35 exhibitors displayed items for farming, gardening, planting and home decorating.

Along with tractors, ATVs, motorbikes and social services information booths were some unique offerings.

Soul to Sole body fitness, owned by Alissa Beals of Houlton, offers fitness classes like cardio drumming, Pound Unplugged and Zumba. Cabinetmaker Kevin Carpenter

displayed Carp handmade guitars of New Limerick, where he crafts one-of-a-kind guitars from exquisite and unusual woods.

The Canning Man, aka former chef and Houlton native Travis Beaton of Glenburn, set up rows of Lady Ashburnham pickles and other canned goods. The pickles are a regional delicacy in New Brunswick and in Maine’s border communities.

“Where else can you get that many people under one roof who will listen to what you have to offer?” Torres asked. 

Tim and Connie Messier of Messier Studios in Sherman, trade show regulars, were selling Tim’s hand-carved burl bowls, hand carved and painted birds, and moose and deer antler art. While they were not overly busy, it was a good start for the upcoming art fair and farmers market season, Connie Messier said.

The trade show is not meant to be a huge money maker, but to be an opportunity for member businesses as well as some extra non-members to showcase what they do, Torres said. 

The $3 entrance fee covers the space rental and advertising and any remaining funds go toward the other 14 events the Chamber hosts throughout the year, she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated Kevin Carpenter’s name.

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...