A shopper rides a motorized shopping cart past shelves emptied of toilet paper at Walmart. Shoppers worried about the coronavirus have been buying large quantities of toilet paper, diapers, canned goods and other necessities. WENDY RACKLIFF PHOTO

Restaurants, retailers struggling to hold on

ELLSWORTH — Some businesses can adapt and even thrive when a global pandemic hits; others, like restaurants and retailers, are hard-hit.

“It’s the restaurants and small shops that are struggling the most,” said Gretchen Wilson, executive director of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce. “If someone is out of work or worried they will be, are they going to spend their discretionary income anywhere but the grocery store?”

Governor Janet Mills on Wednesday morning announced she was mandating statewide closure of all dine-in establishments beginning Wednesday at 6 p.m. Those businesses may continue to offer take-out.

The restaurants that are normally take-out eateries have been OK, Wilson said, but dine-in restaurants had been struggling even prior to the announcement.

To fight potential spread of the coronavirus, state and federal officials are urging Americans to follow “social distancing” guidelines. That suggests avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people and avoiding bars, restaurants and food courts, instead using pickup, drive-through or delivery options.

To that end, local restaurants are adapting.

While Paul Markosian and his wife, Lorena Stearns, made the decision Monday to temporarily close Finn’s Pub, an anchor of Ellsworth’s Main Street, for now they are keeping Flexit Café and Bakery open.

“We’re two different types of establishments,” Markosian said. “Basically, we felt like at Flexit there’s less risk of exposure and contact. It’s easier to limit social contact at Flexit than at a busy pub where people are sitting shoulder to shoulder at a bar. We’re set up for food already prepared for people to pick it up and take it to go. For now, we plan to remain open doing this. We’re taking lots and lots of extra precautions to keep our staff and customers safe and healthy.”

Markosian said business has been “declining.”

That’s the situation at 86This! also. Right now the restaurant is open for take-out, but that may change soon.

“We’re running down inventory and figuring probably tomorrow or the next day buttoning up,” said owner Jeff Kelly-Lokocz. “All of our staff members are working voluntarily. One manager didn’t feel comfortable, so she was laid off and will return later.”

“Going to just burritos — just doing a lunch take out — that’s a possibility,” said Kelly-Lokocz. “Running with myself and one other crew member. If that doesn’t happen, I’d like to get to Saturday.”

Other restaurants have closed their dining rooms but are open for customers to pick up orders. That list includes Provender in Ellsworth, among others. Pat’s Pizza in Ellsworth is operating via drive-through only. MacLeod’s in Bucksport is open for pickup orders daily between 4 and 7 p.m. Order in advance.

“People like to get takeout,” Markosian said. Even if people cook, they like to get a break and bring food home. He’s also talked to single people who live alone and tell him they don’t keep any food in their refrigerators.

“A lot of people want to bring meals home and we can provide that service now,” Markosian said.

Meanwhile, small business owners, especially those who own retail shops, are having challenges.

“It’s pretty quiet,” said Andy Lacher, who owns BookStacks in Bucksport. With virtually every library in Hancock County closed, there are all sorts of books at Lacher’s shop, including a supply of used books.

“Even on a good day, it’s very rare we have more than four people in here at the same time,” Lacher said.

Two of Lacher’s three employees are at home because they have family members who are in higher risk categories for illness.

“Otherwise it’s unlock the doors and turn on the light,” said Lacher. “We’re cleaning more, that’s for sure.”

L.L. Bean has temporarily closed all of its locations.

Wilson suggested one way residents could help their local businesses survive is to buy gift cards to use later.

While shelves in many grocery stores have been cleared of certain items, there are no anticipated shortages.

The chamber executive spoke with the managers of all three large grocery stores in Ellsworth this week: Hannaford, Shaw’s Supermarket and Walmart.

“All three said there is no problem with our distribution,” Wilson said. “It’s trying to get things restocked.”

Meanwhile, the Maine Retailers’ Association has drafted a list of what it considers essential businesses, she said. “It’s 90 percent of what we have here.”

Essential businesses would be allowed to remain open should the government impose a state of emergency.

To allow for essential goods to be accessible to the public, the city/town may designate the following businesses as essential: supermarkets and grocery stores, big-box stores, pharmacies, discount stores, mini-markets, non-specialized food stores, daycare centers, hardware stores, gas stations, banks and post offices.

Note, many banks in Hancock County are only offering drive-through services and/or requiring customers to make appointments for service lobbies.

Also included on the list, laundromats and dry cleaners, veterinary clinics for domestic pets and pet stores. Also deemed essential are commercial establishments that sell any of the following: frozen products; non-specialized stores of computers, telecommunications equipment, audio and video consumer electronics, household appliances; IT and telecommunication equipment; hardware, paint, flat glass; electrical, plumbing and heating material; automotive fuel; domestic fuel; sanitary equipment; personal hygiene products medication not requiring medical prescription; medical and orthopedic equipment; optics and photography equipment; and soaps and detergents.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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