ELLSWORTH – Neither business nor the traditional public fireworks displays were booming this Fourth of July.
While traffic to the area did pick up and plenty of out-of-state plates were spotted, the holiday weekend was subdued compared to years past, says Gretchen Wilson, executive director of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce. Locals were “kind of melancholy” about a year with no parade or fireworks in Bar Harbor, she added.
“I think there was traffic and there were definitely a lot of people out and about, certainly a lot of Mainers out and about,” Wilson said, noting that the chamber’s parking lot was crowded with large RVs last Thursday.
Traffic across Maine was down 22 percent the week of Fourth of July compared to the previous year, according to figures provided by the Maine Department of Transportation. Traffic recorded on Route 3 in Trenton on the north end of the Thompson Island Bridge was down 32 percent. There was 14 percent less traffic recorded on Route 1 in Hancock.
The COVID-19 pandemic and shifting state guidelines prompted many out-of-state travelers in May and June to cancel their planned Maine vacations, Wilson said. Few rebooked when later adjustments were made to the state’s guidelines for visitors.
In Ellsworth, 10 of the 63 rooms at the Comfort Inn were rented over the long weekend, Wilson said. The Ramada was at 20 percent capacity and the Hampton Inn booked fewer than half of its 103 rooms, she said.
“Definitely it wasn’t a ‘no vacancy’ weekend,” as is usually the case, she said.
Wilson said campgrounds, which draw much of their revenue from long-term RV space rentals, seem to be doing well in that regard. People who rent out properties on AirBnb also seem to have had better luck than hotels in “backfilling” canceled weeks, she added.
It’s a scary time for seasonal businesses, Wilson said, many of which use money generated in the first two months of the season to pay their property taxes. Those can be hefty bills, especially for waterfront properties
A few businesses have decided it is not worth opening at all. Others are experiencing staffing issues.
Businesses that are doing OK? Landscapers, Home Depot, other home improvement establishments and takeout restaurants, according to Wilson.
Restaurants that traditionally specialized in sit-down dining have had “a hard pivot,” she said, but many have come up with creative ways to attract and serve customers. She said the city has been helpful in allowing businesses to use sidewalks and parking areas for outdoor seating.
Businesses are holding out to see what August and September bring. In recent years, September has been a bigger month than July for some seasonal businesses, Wilson said.
“I’m just hoping that everyone is kind and patient with our businesses this summer,” she added.
To that end, the Retail Association of Maine, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association recently launched a “Let’s Be Kind” campaign urging customers to be respectful of state and business guidelines.
“Please don’t get upset with our people, they’re just doing their job and they’re trying to make it safe for you,” according to John Reny of Renys, who is featured in one of the Let’s Be Kind videos.