BELFAST — Call it commerce cajoled. From the Ice Festival to Harbor Fest, a local organization is looking for ways to attract more people to Belfast by encouraging sales and hosting events, all in the hope that many will include Belfast in their weekly itineraries.

It’s working.

Our Town Belfast is a nonprofit organization that focuses on the businesses in Belfast. Founded in 2010, the organization has quickly gained respect.

“We’re one of 10 accredited Main Street organizations in Maine,” said OTB Director Amanda Cunningham.

The organization’s mission is to support local businesses, honor Belfast’s heritage through historic preservation, and bring the community together to make downtown Belfast a better place to live, work and play.

Sounds like a chamber of commerce.

“We’re different than the chamber,” Cunningham said. “We’re a very distinct footprint of downtown Belfast. We’re only a few blocks. The chamber is for businesses in Belfast, and all of Waldo County. We’re also focused on celebrating downtown, it’s not just business.”

Cunningham took the OTB director’s post in June 2022. It represents a coalescence of the skills she has spent developing over the past 15 years.

Amanda Cunningham is the Director of Our Town Belfast. Seeger Solutions Photography

Cunningham spent nearly a decade in retail product development and project management at Foreside and Cuddledown.

The Belfast native moved back home, looking for the next step in her career.

“I struggled to find something when I came back,” Cunningham said. “It took a couple years, and then the position at the Y came up. It was exactly what I was looking for.”

That position was the community coordinator’s position. Cunningham accepted the post, ultimately becoming the marketing director and fundraiser at the Waldo County YMCA.

“I wanted to get out of product development,” she said. “I needed something that would fill my cup, make me happy. It was exactly the step I wanted to make.”

Cunningham worked in the marketing director/fundraiser role at the Waldo County Y for a few years before accepting the OTB director’s post.

“The transition from (marketing director) to this job is perfect,” Cunningham said. “It rolls all of the skills I’ve developed into one job.”

She has hit the ground running. Our Town Belfast organizes and hosts a handful of weekend events throughout the year, as well as several other smaller events throughout the community. Cunningham sees the success of OTB’s current slate of events, as well as new events planned, as a function of building deliberately.

“Most events begin small, organic,” Cunningham said. “People see them and want to be involved and we build from there, adding something new here and there.”

Two examples of this philosophy are the Ice Festival and the upcoming Keep Belfast Boo-tiful promotion.

The Ice Festival, held in February, was a hit from the start, but ran into trouble when warm temperatures and rain turned art into water. Cunningham is working with OTB and local businesses to make this year’s festival more popular.

“The Ice Festival has grown astronomically,” said Cunningham. “We’re working with organizers, artists and local businesses to make this year’s event a little bigger, a little better.”

OTB is also calling for scarecrows in mid-October. The idea is that organizations and individuals make scarecrows for display around town during the weekend, accompanied by discount sales at local businesses. Cunningham said several ideas were tossed around regarding the scarecrow promotion, but OTB chose a simpler path.

“Build it slow, add a little bit here and there, and you’ve got an event that is popular, and one that lasts,” Cunningham said. “We had a few ideas for the scarecrows but decided to make it simpler for everyone participating. We’ll add to it as needed, or if needed.”

Cunningham’s Main Street Our Town Belfast office sits on the second floor, up a set of narrow stairs that lead to a similarly narrow room. This is Cunningham’s command center, where she makes connections with business owners, organizers and volunteers. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m right in the middle of it here,” she said of her proximity to Main Street businesses. “I couldn’t ask for more.”