The sign outside the Red Maple Inn in Guilford. Credit: Ernie Clark

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Paul Zimmerman and Martha Ward already had planned an improvement project for the Red Maple Inn in Guilford again this year.

They’ve invested in their Piscataquis County restaurant and lounge annually since moving the business across the street in 2013 to its current location — the former Braeburn Hotel annex on North Main Street.

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Little did Zimmerman and Ward know how much free time they’d have for renovation this year after the Red Maple Inn and other restaurants around the state were closed to dine-in customers as of March 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, like several other businesses in the region, they’ve used the downtime to work on their infrastructure for when the customers eventually return — in their case installing a new floor and walls in the kitchen as well as completing a “deep clean” of their entire establishment.

“We figured we might as well make good use of the time,” Ward said. “The renovations we’re doing, we’re doing ourselves. We’re buying materials out of our savings accounts. The Red Maple certainly didn’t have it, and we’re hoping this doesn’t go on too long because we’re running out.”

Indeed, the trickle-down impact of the coronavirus threat on restaurants and bars throughout Maine has been dramatic, with restaurants that are still open limited to takeout offerings.

Zimmerman and Ward had opted to close their rustic restaurant completely, but a post Monday on the Red Maple Inn’s Facebook page suggested they may soon offer takeout food with curbside pickup or possibly delivery depending on public response to the idea.

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“I have a new kitchen and need to use it,” Zimmerman wrote in the post.

The impact of the pandemic on Zimmerman’s and Ward’s business transcends merely not being able to operate their restaurant and lounge.

They also are unable to rent out the five upstairs rooms in the building and have cut the hours of their coin-operated laundromat to 8 a.m.-8 p.m. from its previous 24-7 operation. Customers at the laundry facility are limited to one customer at a time for safety reasons.

“I have to lock the door and people have to come see me while I’m working in [the restaurant] to use the laundry,” Zimmerman said. “Then I go in after they’re done to wipe down the machines just to make sure there’s nothing with COVID-19 in my laundromat.

“That’s cut into the laundromat part of the business pretty hard.”

There’s also an additional human cost for Zimmerman and Ward — the fate of their 12 employees now out of work.

“We check on all of our help to make sure they’re doing OK, because we’re all like one big family,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman and Ward hope to add to the popular deck at the rear of the restaurant once the weather improves, but each day the business is closed adds to their financial concern.

“Right now we have zero income. Thank God I have another job,” said Ward, who also works as an accountant. “It’s scary, very scary. We still have bills coming in but we have no income to pay them.”

That’s just one reason Ward and Zimmerman hope for a rapid return to business normalcy at the Red Maple Inn, though even such good news would present a significant new challenge.

“I never foresaw this nine or 10 years ago when we opened,” Zimmerman said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot — a month or a month and a half or two months — but it’s like we’re going to be starting all over again.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...