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Camden business owners feeling good about booming summer tourism

A year ago, Camden Deli made a pact to survive the COVID-19 pandemic no matter what. It succeeded, but also realizes that other Maine businesses aren't as fortunate.

CAMDEN, Maine — As they prep the lunchtime menu, the Camden Deli is bright, clean, and, despite the spectacular harbor view through a wall of glass, essentially empty.

The longtime Main Street business has tables and chairs on two levels, but those have been unused for months as the Deli does its best to stay in business, despite the COVID pandemic.

A year ago, that simple goal—staying in business—looked like a challenge.

“Our decision was to get through this no matter what we do, whether curbside deliveries, whatever it takes to stay alive,” owner Tom Rothwell said.

That decision came after a meeting with the deli’s nine longtime staff members.

“And we haven’t closed since,” he said.

But it has still been a difficult year for all businesses, and some haven’t made it. There are currently more empty storefronts in the village than have been seen in many years.

Meg Quijano of The Smiling Cow, which has been on Main Street for more than 75 years, said everyone has noticed the vacancies, but she is not worried.

“It doesn’t look great in the town to see a lot of empty storefronts. But Camden is pretty resilient, it’s a strong town,” Quijano said.

And it’s a town bouncing back.

She said the word around town is that most of those storefronts will have new businesses before summer. And the word last week that the Governor is reopening the state to visitors from all New England states, without quarantine or testing, and to anyone who has been vaccinated, has given business owners new hope that summer might be a good season again.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Lix Sender, owner of Once A Tree on Main Street.

“So many (things) make it seem like a great place to come to this summer and fall. So we could have a great year, but then I remember we are still in a pandemic and there is such uncertainty and we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

But they are still hoping that a year after COVID took charge, its grip is easing, and that summer visitors, which have sustained Camden businesses for so many years, will be back.