Income dries up as virus spreads



ELLSWORTH — For the 2020 selling season, artisan Claire Weinberg had big plans.

Weinberg and her daughter, Carly, co-owners of skincare company Dulse & Rugosa, were set to run workshops, host open houses and participate in shows to market their handcrafted soaps, lotions, scrubs and oils from their new property on Route 1 in Gouldsboro.

Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, all their plans are on hold. With no other income, paying the bills is also on hold.

“We can get by for a little while, but I don’t know when it’s going to end,” Weinberg said. “I’m petrified.”

Weinberg is one of many small business owners trying to figure out how to survive the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Governor Janet Mills issued an executive order mandating that all non-essential businesses in the state close their “public facing” locations, where customers, vendors and others might have in-person contact. Mills also ordered the closure of non-essential businesses at which more then 10 workers “convene in a space where physical distancing is not possible.” Last week, the governor had ordered the closure of all dine-in restaurants in the state.

Claire Weinberg and her daughter, Carly, bought this building on Route 1 in Gouldsboro last year as an investment in their business. Now its future is uncertain because of the pandemic. CLAIRE WEINBERG PHOTO

As of Wednesday morning, the federal government had yet to pass a stimulus bill. On March 17, the Maine Legislature enacted a set of emergency measures including low- or no-interest loans and the temporary expansion of unemployment benefits. But, these don’t go far enough, said Weinberg.

“I can’t get unemployment,” Weinberg said. “I don’t have any money. I don’t know what’s going to happen a year from now to so take out a loan is scary.”

The situation is affecting many who work as independent contractors or run small businesses on which they depend for household income.

Kristen Nabarrete closed her business, the Milbridge House Restaurant, after Mills’ order March 19. Milbridge House customers come not only to eat but also to socialize, so she couldn’t justify staying open for takeout only.

“Both my husband, John, and I work at the restaurant, so neither of us has any form of income coming in right now,” she said.

In addition to trying to keep up with personal and business property expenses, Nabarrete estimates she will lose about $3,500 worth of unused food.

The Nabarretes also own the Red Barn Motel, which was scheduled to open April 1. However, all April reservations have canceled because of the virus.

“What really worries me is if this affects us into our summer season,” she said. “All our big expenses, like property taxes, come due. It could be devastating for a number of small businesses if we’re not able to make our summer profits.”

Myron Spaulding of Harrington, owner of Swamp Yankee BBQ in Jonesboro, has similar concerns not only for the restaurant but also for his rental properties.

“We depend on our summer rentals to pay our property taxes and all our costs associated with the properties,” he said. “Who knows how the long-term summer travel will be affected.”

A sign in front of Dulse & Rugosa in Gouldsboro offers free soap for the taking (foreground). Owner Claire Weinberg has plenty of soap scraps to offer but is concerned she may not be able to pay her bills if the pandemic continues. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JOHANNA S. BILLINGS

In the summer, Spaulding takes his barbecue on the road, setting up at area festivals and events. He has already paid entry fees totaling more than $3,000 with no idea whether the events will take place. If the pandemic continues, he also stands to lose revenue from private events he caters, he said.

Weinberg, whose business also depends on festivals and events, had planned to participate in craft shows as far away as Boston. She also spent money on advertising for workshops and other local events that may not happen.

Spaulding’s wife, Linda, runs Mill River Vintages, a seasonal antique shop in Harrington that may also be affected, especially if the pandemic continues.

“So the pandemic has or probably will affect all our avenues of income,” Spaulding said. “From a business perspective we have a cushion, but that can only last so many months before it becomes critical. You have to consider the reduction of sales in the few weeks leading up to our closing.”

The impact goes far beyond individual businesses.

“I’m very worried about what this means for our area in particular,” Nabarrete said. “Small businesses are the backbone of our [community] and most of the communities in Maine.”

Small nonprofits that usually take care of others are also at risk. Community Closet in Ellsworth has had to close its thrift store and cancel its major spring fundraiser, but still faces approximately $2,500 in monthly expenses.

“We have enough saved to pay the bills for April and May,” said Director Jacqueline Wycoff, who is among the organization’s all-volunteer staff.

In addition to shutting down the thrift store, Community Closet has closed to item donations, which cuts into smaller day-to-day online fundraising through item sales.

“We won’t be able to make enough to keep up if this situation lasts too long,” she said. “I am worried for the people that have no one. I’m worried for the people that just barely make ends meet as it is and now are out of work and scared and worried for their families.”

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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