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'It wears on you' -- Brunswick food, drink businesses battle uneven playing field

Restaurants in Cumberland, York, and Androscoggin counties still cannot open for indoor dining -- and whether Maine breweries can open depends on their license.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Brunswick is an average-sized town -- but its food and drink scene is a cut above others. Now, though, many of those beloved restaurants, bars, and breweries are seeing less foot traffic because of more restrictions. 

Restaurants in Cumberland, York, and Androscoggin counties are only allowed to open for outdoor dining, per updates to Stage 2 of Gov. Janet Mills' reopening plan due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That means that in some places, county lines have drawn a sort of modern 'Tale of Two Cities'. Right across the Androscoggin River from Brunswick, Topsham's restaurants are fully open. A large sign with bright red letters beckons customers to Topsham's Sea Dog Brewing Company.

RELATED: Phase 2 of Maine's reopening plan begins, as businesses can still deny service to those without face coverings

"Normally, this is a parking lot on Route One," Jane Davis, who has been the owner of the classic Brunswick Diner for 22 years, said. On a dreary Tuesday morning, she sits at a corner booth with her heads in her hands and a tired look in her eye, explaining the restaurant's situation to NEWS CENTER Maine.

"It's the first problem that I've experienced in the restaurant in 22 years that I feel like there's no true solution," Davis expressed, exasperated. A bit more than a week ago, they reopened their patio, adding extra chairs and tables to try to attract more customers, but that hasn't been enough. 

RELATED: Mills postpones restaurant reopening for dine-in customers in 3 Maine counties

Davis says on a normal week day, they are only doing about 30 percent of what they would typically do. She thinks the slow business is a result of lack of tourism and plenty of competition a few miles away in Topsham -- and even in Brunswick. It's a gloomy situation for Davis and her loyal regulars, since the summer is when the diner normally makes all of its revenue to sustain business for the rest of the year.

"It wears on you," Davis smiled sadly from behind a mask, talking about the foreboding threat of going under. "I don't know."

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Some businesses in the town, though, haven't been able to reopen at all. Black Pug Brewing Company is less than two years old and, as a licensed brewery, has been relying on take-out Growlers for all of its income right now.

"If we can survive this, we can survive anything," Sam Wilson, the brewer and owner of Black Pug Brewing, said. He says the support from locals who have come to know and love them has been strong -- but the threat of competitors who are already open is stressful.

"Naturally, the concern is that as others open, we'll be left behind," Wilson noted.

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One of those competitors is located just a few minutes away, also in Brunswick. Nate Wildes, the founder of Flight Deck Brewing, says they applied for a restaurant license last year to serve wine and hard cider, which paid off quite well. It's the reason they've been able to reopen when so many others haven't -- a privilege Wildes says they deeply appreciate.

"It was a big moment last week when the first people walked through our front door, and we were able to see them in our facility and enjoy a beer with them on our patio," Wildes smiled. He says they actually saw quite big numbers in their first week -- likely due in part to limited options in Brunswick and Flight Deck's social distancing-oriented set-up at the old Brunswick naval air station base. 

That moment of welcoming crowds of customers back is something these other businesses can't wait to do.

"We're trying to stay positive and figure ways around this," David said assuredly. 

"The support of this community...makes me realize that we've actually built something here that can stand some pretty hard tests," Wilson expressed. 

There is no set date for restaurants in Cumberland, York, and Androscoggin counties to fully reopen. The decision will likely be based on the rate of COVID-19 in those areas. 

At this point, Maine breweries without restaurant licenses are expected to be able to reopen with the start of Phase 3 on July 1. 

RELATED: Real-time Maine coronavirus COVID-19 updates: Maine DHHS to put $1 million toward Mainers' mental health

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