BAR HARBOR, Maine — Regardless of how you mark the beginning of summer, whether it's Memorial Day or the summer solstice, the season is here. In years past, thousands of tourists and out of state visitors would be exploring Maine’s parks and beaches.
But this summer, vacation towns like Bar Harbor are eerily quiet because of the coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic.
Bar Harbor businesses are mostly seasonal and depend on the flocks of tourists visiting the town and Acadia National Park.
No tourists unfortunately mean no boom in business.
“Bar Harbor businesses are down anywhere from 70 to 95%,” Independent Café owner Timothy Rich said. “The town and the state is going to look very different in a year if we don’t do something about it.”
Rich and 19 other small business owners are doing something about it. The group wrote a letter to Governor Mill’s office. The letter made mentions of “saving our state” as seasonal businesses make up a lot of Maine’s economy.
The business owners were clear in what they were asking for, an end to the 14-day quarantine and for Mills to approve the 800-million-dollar Recovery Plan proposed by Maine Hospitality and Tourism officials.
“We are all going to be in some really deep trouble,” Rich said if steps aren’t taken to help Bar Harbor businesses. "If we can spend it on one thing that’s really going to make a dramatic difference in Maine for everybody it's going to be this plan that hospitality Maine put out.”
Meeting Monday morning at Bar Harbor Beerworks, which is currently closed, a group of owners who signed the letter spoke about their concerns and struggles.
Most of the others who signed couldn’t make it because they are one of the only employees at their respective restaurants and businesses and couldn’t find anyone to cover.
“People think you make a living on delivery only, it’s a small fraction, it doesn’t even cover the overhead,” Stadium Restaurant and Bar and Tailgate Sports & Pizza Co-owner Richard Duperey said.
His co-owner Kristen Bitler said changing protocols and restaurant layouts were hard as the CDC and the state changed and updated guidelines frequently.
“It’s really hard to weave and make those changes so quickly.”
The common tie that groups all these business owners together is they’re all not making as much money as last summer, not even close.
“We’re operating at about 45% to last year,” said Bill Coggins, the owner of Ben & Bill’s, an ice cream shop. The store is in its 40th year and Coggins mentioned he will have half his staff for the whole summer.
Over at Epi’s Pizza, co-owner Desiree Bousquet said the restaurant has good days and bad days.
“Numbers on a bad day, we’re down 85% from years past.”
Bousquet and co-owner Mick Majka add the pizza joint normally is open year-round to connect with the locals in the off-season. But since there may not be a full “normal” season, Epi’s may close in the fall.
“We might have to actually close for the first time in many years, and we’re sad about that,” Majka said.
While these business owners are demanding change and trying to survive, they’re biggest concern isn’t for themselves, it’s for their employees.
“Not to have a strong season (this summer), I don’t really know what’s going to happen to our workers come next winter,” Duperey said.
“My biggest concern is staying open for the employees,” Coggins added. “I owe it to them to stay through the season.”
Besides making money for this season, the summer allows these businesses to stay afloat during the fall and winter.
“That’s when we’re going to start seeing some pain and suffering of people around here. Without the cruise ships and bus tours, that’s what keeps us afloat after Labor Day,” Bousquet said.
While these owners try to survive day by day their only hope is some help from the Governor who they are pleading to for help.