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Maine small businesses forced to close or downsize during coronavirus pandemic

As different sectors of Maine's economy prepare to reopen, a growing number of businesses are opting to permanently close.

AUGUSTA, Maine — On Friday Uncle Andy's Diner in South Portland announced it will close for good at the end of the month after operating for 66 years. The diner is just one of the dozens of Maine small businesses that are shutting their doors during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Some small businesses say as the shut down drags on with limited or no income coming in, they just can't survive. 

Others hope downsizing will keep their businesses afloat.

The Play Factory, an indoor play space in Waterville, closed March 15 at the beginning of the outbreak in Maine. Owners Joni Sprague and Jeremy Lizzott posted last weekend on social media they are shutting down for good.  

"We had to close, we couldn't keep paying rent," Sprague said. "So we closed and [are] trying to figure out how to pay off our business loans."

Hundreds of kids have visited the 4,000-foot indoor space, which filled a need in the community for three years. The Spraque and Lizzott applied for a small business loan but didn't get an answer. The couple says the uncertainly of when they could even reopen played a big role.

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Kennebec Chocolates, which manufactures chocolates and confections, were allowed to keep operating but had to close its shop to in-store customers. They missed one of the biggest times of their season—Easter—and major wholesale accounts dried up. 

The 24-year-old business was already considering closing due to the increase in the minimum wage—but COVID-19 was the nail in the coffin. 

The community response to their Facebook post announcing its closing was overwhelming.

"The phone has not stopped ringing with people trying to get chocolates before we close, it's been wonderful," owner Jennifer Dumond said.

The run is also over for Smitty's Cinema in Biddeford. The family-owned chain announced this week it is permanently closing the theater citing financial problems from the pandemic. Locations in Sanford, Windham, and Topsham and Tilton in New Hampshire, which also operate restaurants, hope to reopen this summer. 

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Albert Waitt, the director of operations, says the company did receive a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan which helped with some bills, but it wasn't enough. 

"The PPP can help but it really can't make up for not begin open and not having people employed. In Biddeford, our rent is still coming in and that's not cheap," Waitt said.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

NEWS CENTER Maine Coronavirus Coverage

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