This story is part of the Bangor Daily News’ road trip across the state one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Read an overview of the project here.

With its floor-to-ceiling windows covered with brown paper, Port City Music Hall on Portland’s Congress Street looks like yet another coronavirus casualty from the outside. But inside, David Aceto and his colleagues are working on transforming the concert venue into an arcade bar.

Giving the historic music venue that closed for good last summer a new life, Arcadia National Bar is moving from its location on Preble Street to the Congress Street building, which is five times bigger. 

The arcade bar has been closed since March 2020, and has no plans to reopen until it can do so safely while retaining its identity.

“As an arcade bar, it is basically the opposite of social distancing,” Aceto said. “We know what our space is. You’re not sitting down at a table and having food and drink. You’re moving game to game, and you’re touching a lot of things.”

Clockwise from top: People walk past restaurants in an almost empty Monument Square in downtown Portland on Feb. 23; a message to customers on display as customers enter Trader Joe’s; masked people walk along Congress Street; David Aceto, co-owner of Arcadia National Bar in Portland, talks about keeping his business viable. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

The pandemic hit Portland and its suburbs in Maine’s most populous county hard early on, and the region’s infection rate has remained high throughout the pandemic. As of the end of February, Portland had recorded 3,751 cases among residents, giving it the fourth highest rate in the state. Nearby Westbrook’s rate was second highest. As the state’s largest hospital, Maine Medical Center in Portland has seen a sizable share of the state’s patient load. And Portland’s hospitality sector, with its nationally known restaurant scene, has taken a larger hit than restaurants and hotels in other regions of the state.

Portland businesses have since run the gamut in terms of their strategies. On Congress Street and in Monument Square, some bars and restaurants have managed to stay open while coffee shops, bookstores and gift shops appear mostly closed. The most immediately visible effect from the pandemic is the much lower number of people walking around. And even in Maine’s biggest city, the few people who were out and about on Feb. 23 were not necessarily wearing masks.

“I think for the most part people are compliant,” Aceto said. “But there are always going to be people who want to see things in a little bit of a different way.”

Clockwise from left: A sign encouraging masks hangs on a light post in downtown Portland on Feb. 23; David Aceto, co-owner of Arcadia National Bar in Portland, talks about keeping his business viable by moving into a bigger space where customers can socially distance when Arcadia reopens; an almost empty Monument Square in downtown Portland; Aceto walks through the old location of his business. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

As a larger city, Portland is still taking many precautions that smaller municipalities don’t necessarily have to. City Hall and the Portland Public Library are closed to the public except for limited services. As in many other southern Maine towns, the city’s lampposts have signs cautioning people to wear masks in public places.

“Portland being the biggest city in Maine, we have to be a little extra cautious because of how many people are here and come here,” Aceto said.