CAMDEN, Maine — On the sidewalks of Camden’s downtown on Tuesday, Joan and Bob Tuleya did some window shopping. As they checked out the offerings at Once A Tree, the couple from Virginia said it felt good to be able to travel freely again, and enjoy the beauty of Maine.
“Oh, it's great,” Bob said, “We’re delighted.”
“It's so freeing to be able to do this now again,” added Joan.
And that feeling may be shared by thousands of visitors coming to Camden so far this summer season. Business owners say June was very busy, and the July 4th weekend has also seen a surge of tourists in town.
At the Camden Deli, owner Tom Rothwell said they have been so busy it's hard to even answer the phone. But after last year’s pandemic restricted business, he said it’s a welcome change.
“Right now, June actually seems comparable in sales to peak season. Once restrictions were released it was like an explosion. Things are really busy.”
It's the same thing at Once A Tree, a popular Main Street retail store, owned by Liz Senders. Like other local businesses, she worried in early spring whether COVID restrictions would prevent people from visiting the town.
That worry has disappeared, and she said local people, as well as tourists, appear relieved.
“And this year people just seem so excited to be here, and I think it's because a lot of them didn’t get to be here last year," she said. "And for myself, it just feels really good to be out and about, enjoying life.”
We first talked with Sender and Rothwell, along with the owner of the neighboring The Smiling Cow gift shop, in early April. Mask requirements and other restrictions were still in place then, and a number of storefronts were empty, giving the downtown an unusual, troubled look.
All that has changed. The vacant stores have been filled by new businesses, such as Blue Jay Baby Boutique, where owner Carissa Parini is one of the new faces on Main Street—a generational change, she said.
“There were a lot of people retiring, and now there’s a lot of new faces. Time for the next generation,” Parini said.
She said business has been good, even for her new store, as visitors rediscover the village, and can again enjoy the freedom of being on vacation in Maine.
Will it last?
Tom Rothwell, like all of them, is hopeful.
“Right now, it's looking like a spectacular year. I’m thinking record-breaking, but I’m not predicting, we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to be complacent."