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Jamie Blood, the owner of Corner Point Brewing in Berwick, said his sales collapsed last week after nearby New Hampshire reopened restaurants and breweries on May 18, and he’s expecting another revenue hit when Maine restaurants throughout the state reopen June 1.
“I had more than 50 phone calls last week with people asking whether our outdoor patio is open. When I said ‘no,’ they hung up and went to New Hampshire,” he said. “We are worried that when Maine restaurants reopen June 1 that it could bury some craft brewers.”
Corner Point is a member of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, which late Tuesday issued a news release asking Gov. Janet Mills and other officials to allow breweries to reopen June 1 — in line with restaurants — rather than the current state mandate of July 1 for brewers without restaurant licenses.
The guild also asked for the state to use the ability to reopen outdoors seating as a criterion rather than liquor license classifications, which are preventing brewers from using the outdoor seating they could open before the coronavirus pandemic spread.
The guild said Vermont, New Hampshire and the city of Boston have prioritized reopening businesses with outdoor seating. Sean Sullivan, the executive director of the guild, said reopening outdoor spaces is a safer option to indoor seating.
“The governor has said she hopes to see more outdoors space utilized,” he said, but letters to her office haven’t produced any results.
Sullivan said earlier that state restrictions to help limit spread of the virus have hit the craft brewing industry hard, with members relegated to curbside and home delivery.
In 2019, the craft beer industry employed 2,046 people directly, Sullivan said. But two-thirds of Maine’s breweries have had to reduce workers, he said, with about 660 people either laid off or furloughed. The industry contributed about $656 million to Maine’s economy in 2019, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said more than 80 percent of the 152 licensed guild members have outdoor seating but don’t have the proper license to use it under the state mandates. He said curbside and home delivery have been “very helpful,” but it is “not enough to survive on for the vast majority of our members.”
“It’s painful and it’s bleak we’re going to see a variety of outcomes depending on the brewery’s business model,” he said, adding that other businesses in the supply chain also will be harmed.
Mills said at a Wednesday press conference that she has been talking to breweries for weeks and looking at how they can reopen to some extent in different parts of the state. She said about one third of the licensed breweries also have restaurant licenses and can open June 1.
“But we’re not there yet for all the brewers,” she said.
In the meantime, Blood said he is measuring his patio to ready it for reopening, with social distancing. The 1,000-square-foot space is larger than the indoor part of the brewery, and can seat about 40 people, half the number before the pandemic hit. Still, it would bring in more money than he can with curbside pickup.
“We can sit quite a few people on the patio,” he said. “People like to sit outside.”
Watch: Here’s a look at Maine’s bustling craft beer scene