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Why some Portland restaurants are closing their doors

Rising costs, minimum wage, and post-pandemic struggles are taking a toll on small businesses.

PORTLAND, Maine — The vibrant culinary scene of Portland, known for its eclectic mix of restaurants and eateries, has recently seen a wave of closures. 

Last week, yet another cherished establishment, Petite Jacqueline, announced its departure from the Portland food scene after a successful 12-year run. 

However, they are not alone in their decision to bid farewell, as several restaurant owners in the area cite a multitude of reasons behind their tough choices.

Michelle Corry, co-owner of Petite Jacqueline, expressed the challenges they faced.

"It's becoming more and more difficult and expensive to operate in Portland," Corry said.

The Corry family has been serving patrons in downtown Portland since 2011, and they have chosen not to increase their prices drastically in order to stay afloat. 

"If we have to charge $60 for a steak just to cover our costs. That's not what it was meant to be," Corry added.

One of the primary issues contributing to their decision to close was the rising minimum wage in Portland, currently set at $14 per hour. 

That is 20 cents higher than the state minimum wage, which stands at $13.80 per hour. 

In response to these challenges, NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to Portland Downtown, the organization dedicated to enhancing the image of downtown Portland. 

"While we always hate to see a small business close its doors, we're confident our world-class restaurant scene remains strong. This is evident by the fact that our storefronts rarely remain empty for long, owing to the incredible culture of entrepreneurship we have in Portland," Portland Downtown Executive Director Cary Tyson said.

Apart from the minimum wage issue, other factors include the increasing costs of food and rent, as well as staffing shortages.

"When we lose money, we take it out of our savings, our college fund; we put it in here. We don't have deep pockets or anyone to turn to," Corry said.

Petite Jacqueline is not the only restaurant facing these challenges. Rivalries, another local favorite, closed its Old Port location in February. 

"The politics of Portland has changed, Portland in general has changed, the politics certainly have, and it's not making it any easier on small businesses to operate," Rivalries owner Lance Meader said.

Meader also pointed out that no other city in the state has a different minimum wage than the state average, which is why they kept their Falmouth location running.

Additionally, Meader noted that fees, such as the cost of a liquor license, are considerably higher in Portland compared to other areas.

"[In Falmouth], we pay a $10 filing fee for our liquor license, and in Portland, we were paying thousands," Meader explained.

Both restaurant owners emphasized that the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated their struggles, making it challenging to return to normal operations. 

"We're going to see a lot of restaurants closing because we can't bounce back that quickly and then bounce into inflation," Corry expressed.

"It hurts the small businesses the most, and that's what Portland is meant to thrive onthe small businesses," Meader said.

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