U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe made a walking tour of downtown Belfast, Aug. 12, talking with business owners, tourists and just about anyone who happened to be walking down Main Street. The mostly upbeat responses she got from shop proprietors was admirable, she said, at a time when the federal government could be doing more to help small businesses.

With Snowe was Jason Levesque, of Auburn, who is challenging Congressman Michael Michaud for the Maine’s Second Congressional District seat in November. Also along for the tour were Rep. Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who is seeking the open Maine Senate District 23 seat, and Lewis Baker who is running for the open Maine House District 43 seat.

Snowe led the tour, making small talk with tourists and locals in Rollie’s, and on the sidewalks of Lower Main Street. When talking with shop owners, however, she wanted to know how business had been.

At Revival Salon she spoke with owners Heather and Matt about their move from Williamsburg, Va., a town that Heather said had not been kind toward small businesses.

At The Art Alliance Gallery, she listened as proprietor Tom Ingram told her he was concerned about the growth of government.

“I hear you,” Snowe said. “That’s the big fight, in Augusta and in Washington. There’s no growth strategy for the private sector.”

Ingram said he called the senator’s office regularly about a variety of issues. It was nice that someone answered the phone, he said. Snowe said she dislikes voicemail enough that she makes a point to have a staff member available. “There are too many frustrations as it stands,” she said.

Many of the people she spoke with thanked her for her service. In most places, but not all, she was recognized immediately. One business owner asked conversationally, “So, you’re running for the Senate?” Snowe was gracious. She was in the Senate already, she said, and had been since 1995.

Talking with a group on the street, Snowe made a reference to what she called “the radio from Maine,” an apparently telepathic effect between the Pine Tree State and the nation’s capital. She knocked herself theatrically on the head with her hand. “You knock sense into us,” she said.

In Beyond the Sea, a gift shop specializing in local crafts, proprietor Nanette Gionfriddo told Snowe how she had opened a year before the recession hit but had been kept in business by year-round residents who bought small things in an effort to support a local merchant.

“It’s the working class and working poor who have kept me in business,” she said, offering the example of a customer coming in during the winter and making the small purchase of a book. “It made the difference,” she said. “That’s reality. Every little bit made the difference.”

As Snowe looked around the shop, Gionfriddo remarked:

“Senator, your nature is just so comfortable. I just feel like you’re one of my customers walking in here.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you,” Snowe replied.

The senator and a small entourage of support staff, candidates and reporters inched up Main Street, stopping to talk with the staff of the Army Navy store about a car that had jumped the curb earlier that afternoon, smashing into the side of the brick building and demolishing a baby stroller — the baby was uninjured. She then headed across the street to Alexia’s Pizza before continuing up Main Street.

Asked about her impressions from the walking tour, Snowe said business owners seemed more positive than in past years, “in spite of the government in Washington.”

“They’re working mightily to be attractive to customers and to bring customers in,” she said.

Snowe expressed frustration at the fate of the contentious small business bill that she helped to draft. The bill, which would create a $30 billion lending fund for small businesses, has recently been opposed by Republican lawmakers, including Snowe, who have asked for amendments to the bill. One of these, which Snowe mentioned on Thursday, would repeal a new tax reporting requirement for businesses that was part of the major health care overhaul passed earlier in the year.

On Thursday, Snowe took a dig at President Obama, saying she believes he could do more to connect with small business owners.

“It would be good for the president to do street tours to see what businesses are doing,” she said, “in this economy especially.”

Asked if touring a downtown area is different than touring a shopping mall, she said, “The downtown is the heart and soul of the community. It’s the lifeline of the community. To see it active in this economy, as it obviously is, that will have a profound effect on the community. It will have a ripple effect on the community if they see success downtown.”

According to an aide, Snowe often makes walking tours of Maine’s downtowns while on recess to get a sense of citizens’ concerns. The last time she toured downtown Belfast was in November 2009, the aide said.