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BLUE HILL, Maine – A natural foods co-op in Blue Hill is booming. A restaurant in Millinocket and a bakery in Belfast are closing temporarily. A family supermarket in Ellsworth has lost business.
Coronavirus has come to Maine, and the state’s small businesses don’t have a clear idea of how it will affect them.
No one knows the precise toll that the new coronavirus, COVID-19, has taken on businesses since it was confirmed in Maine on Thursday. Business groups, such as the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, say that they plan to begin collating data next week on the impact of coronavirus to help group members qualify for federal aid as it becomes available.
Businesses that have closed, such as the Penobscot Theater Co. of Bangor, say they are closing temporarily. Others, such as Reel Pizza Cinerama of Bar Harbor, say that they will stay open through Sunday, but might close afterward, depending on developments.
In Belfast, Moonbat City Baking Co. announced on its Facebook page that Friday will be its last day of business for as many as 30 days.
“We believe that social distancing is part of the answer to prevent the spread of the virus,” the Moonbat City notice said. “Closing for now is our best option for our health, the health of our staff and the health of our community.”
In Millinocket, Sawmill Bar and Grill workers were told Friday that the restaurant will be closing temporarily, starting on Sunday, due to the virus’s negative impact upon business.
“We will remain closed until we can get a better handle on where this disease is going. We are in a highly vulnerable business as we see hundreds of people a day and do not want to add to the issue,” one of the businesses’ operators said on social media.
Another small food outlet, John Edwards Market of Ellsworth, has lost some business due to the coronavirus and could close temporarily, according to Manager Josh Abbott.
“We are only recently getting into the extent of it. We will endeavor to be of service as long as we can be available,” Abbott said. “We have been a little busier [selling] some staple items, but I imagine we will see some slowdowns. People have an air of uncertainty, and they are shopping on that, so it is difficult to plan, in any event.”
The rush to buy food has kept many supermarkets hopping.
“It’s been really busy,” said Kipp Hopkins, the marketing manager at the Blue Hill Co-op, the state’s largest single cooperative food store. “As people are coming in and stocking up, we’re seeing a lot of canned goods and toilet paper get sold. Sanitizers we are completely out of. Currently business has definitely increased. Whether it will stay that way is anyone’s guess.”
As small businesses decide whether to stay open in the face of the pandemic or shut down temporarily, at least one federal agency is preparing to offer financial aid to those hit by the virus. The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering designated states low-interest federal disaster loans to small businesses suffering “substantial economic injury as a result of the COVID-19,” according to Quincy H. Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Hentzel said she is unaware of any Portland-area businesses forced to close because of the pandemic, but that the Chamber likely next week will begin to catalogue business shutdowns and other virus-related curtailments in order to help those businesses secure relief funding, she said.
“Right now is just really crazy time, and things are changing by the minute,” Hentzel said. “I think everybody is learning as we go.”
Some businesses are taking novel approaches to their work in response to the pandemic. Penobscot Theater Co. has canceled public performances of its latest productions, Safety Net and The Snow Queen, but “we will be recording these performances and will send a link to all ticket purchasers so that you may view the productions from the comfort of your own homes,” the theater said.
An Italian restaurant in Camden, 40 Paper, has removed some of its tables and nearly half of its bar stools to allow the social spacing health experts say can keep coronavirus from spreading. Happy Hour is now restaurant-wide instead of just in the bar area. And, like Riverside Cafe in Ellsworth, it’s also stepping up its sanitation efforts in its dining room and kitchen to keep germs at a minimum.
40 Paper also is adding home delivery service, according to an announcement on its Facebook page.
“We hope that all of you will join us as active participants in finding creative ways to keep our local businesses afloat. We are all interconnected. We all need each other,” the statement said.
Reel Pizza, a movie theater and restaurant in Bar Harbor that does take-out, is considering solely offering pickup food service, owner Chris Vicenty said.
Vicenty said he felt a mix of resignation and helplessness at how fast the pandemic impact is coming at his business. He typically gets about 40 customers a night, but on Wednesday night, had a total of seven viewers for four showings.
“People have to take this stuff seriously. Pandemics don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat,” he said. “Some movie releases have already been delayed. The numbers are dropping really fast. Probably next week, all movie theaters will be [ordered to] shut down. Then I don’t have a business, and I don’t have a choice.”
Watch: What you need to know about handwashing during coronavirus