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.
On a Tuesday morning in late February, the Kittery Trading Post parking lot was full — mostly with cars from Maine and New Hampshire, but with a few Massachusetts license plates among the mix. David Parker stood at the south entrance, greeting a steady stream of masked shoppers from behind his plexiglass.
York County has seen Maine’s highest rate of coronavirus cases over the past year, with the virus spreading rampantly in the state’s southernmost county particularly after cases from the now-infamous Aug. 7 wedding in the Katahdin region made their way 200 miles south. In late February, nearly a year after Maine recorded its first coronavirus case, York County showed every sign that it was taking the virus seriously.
Towns along U.S. Route 1 displayed prominent signs reminding residents to keep their distance and wear masks. Most pedestrians complied, except when walking alone on the street. While York County, simply because of its location, sees its share of out-of-state visitors from places where the virus has spread more actively, Parker has felt safe at work this past year.
He interacts with dozens of customers every day, but the routine temperature checks, sanitizing of doorknobs and shopping carts, and social distancing protocols Kittery Trading Post has put in place make him feel safe. The store does not allow people to walk in without masks, and over the past year, Parker has had to turn customers away when they refused to comply.
“You can get people who are noncompliant, who refuse to wear a mask because they think it’s a government conspiracy, or it’s against their religion to wear a mask,” he said. But, “you have to wear a mask in this store. If you don’t, then you leave.”
Except for a week in late March 2020 when the store was shut down, Parker has been at work greeting people throughout the year. Business has been relatively stable, with a healthy amount of customers even in the quietest months of January and February.
“There’s less people, but when they’re here they are buying and spending more,” Parker said. “So that’s keeping us afloat.”
A half-hour north on the morning of Feb. 23, Dock Square in Kennebunkport was mostly empty. A handful of people — most wearing masks — walked their dogs, ate lunch at outdoor cafes or waited for curbside pickup from closed restaurants.
Retired nurse Lynne Thomas, who had driven up from York for a coastal walk with her dog Shelby, said that typically tourist-swarmed towns along the coast have been quiet this year. She’s still been able to seek refuge outside.
“That’s the thing I like about my life in Maine. At least we can get out. I’m not really worried about the outside,” she said. “My kids are from Queens, New York, and it’s tough for them, because they can’t get out.”
Friends and family who live in Massachusetts and New York haven’t been able to visit southern Maine like they do every year, and Thomas said she has missed big group events.
But during the pandemic, she and her husband have made a habit of driving up the coast once a week to take walks, going as far north as Camden.
“The vaccine is the best we can do right now to get back to normal,” Thomas said. “We’re ready to move on and do more.”