Mike Thibodeau, co-owner of snow shovel-maker Mt. Waldo Plastics, said inflation is sharply pushing up costs. The former president of the Maine Senate is shown in this Sept. 25, 2015 file photo.

Snow shovel maker Mt. Waldo Plastics in Frankfort saw prices for fiberglass shafts rise $1 each this year and plastic for the scoops more than double.

At the A1 Diner in Gardiner, shortening oil for the fryer is more than twice what it was two years ago and prices are still climbing.

Today’s record-high inflation had its roots in early 2021, when global supply-chain disruptions and unexpected demand for certain goods during the pandemic pushed up prices. Inflation is adding to the stresses already felt by all types of Maine small businesses, which are also contending with much higher fuel and electricity prices than one year ago.

“Inflation is a front-burner issue,” Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said. “Multiple things are hitting and businesses are trying to navigate prices.”

The inflation rate rose to 7.9 percent in February, the highest rate in 40 years and up from the 1.7 percent in the same month last year. The Federal Reserve met Wednesday to try to stem inflation by raising its key benchmark rate to 0.25 percent to 0.50 percent, the first hike in three years and the first of six more to come this year.

By early Thursday, 30-year mortgage rates topped 4 percent for the first time in three years. Those signal higher prices across the board for consumers.

“I don’t know if it’s going to help or not, but they have to do something because the situation is not sustainable,” said Aaron Harris, owner of the A1 Diner, an 86-year-old iconic chrome dining car on Bridge Street.

“I’m reluctant to raise prices and we’re absorbing a lot of the cost right now to level things off for our customers,” Harris said. But that is something he cannot keep doing long term.

Harris, who also is a chef, has had to get creative with the menu because of high costs or the inability to get certain items. He is not offering as many steak specials, instead leaning on a more affordable pot roast. He said he is not always sure if he will be able to get certain items week to week because they are not available or are priced too high.

“Inflation touches everything,” he said.

Some customers are already trying to hedge against future price hikes. Mt. Waldo Plastics has had one large customer, a Boston-area hardware store, order shovels for next year to avoid anticipated price hikes, said Mike Thibodeau, co-owner of the shovel company and a former Maine Senate president who represented Waldo County.

“I’ve never seen that before,” said Thibodeau, who started the company in 2015 when he realized there were no snow-shovel makers in Maine.

Shovels that sold for $15 three years ago are $6 more now, having gone up $4 just in the past year. He expects a similar hike next year. Fiberglass shafts were up $1 a unit to $2.75 this year, and the 70 cents per pound he paid for plastic last year was $1.50 this year and expected to rise even more.

The upside is that there is no competition from Asia for his shovels because shipping costs are too expensive, he said.

Thibodeau makes tens of thousands of shovels every year, and with costs going up, he has to make sure he is not selling the shovels for less than he pays for their materials because everything he is buying is costing more.

With a lot of unknowns about how long cost pressures will last, he and Harris remain optimistic they can navigate the changes.

“Right now prices are crazy, but I have faith things will get back to normal, as they always do,” Harris said.

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Lori Valigra

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...