The Omdal family holds the sign Monday that adorned the doughnut shop they closed in Gardiner. Nels, left, Nic, Lucy and Shelby Omdal, far right, removed all the contents of the shop to save their business, Shelby said. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Frosty’s, the Brunswick-based doughnut shop chain, is closing its shops in Gardiner and Freeport.

 

Over the weekend, Nels and Shelby Omdal cleared out the Gardiner space they have leased at the corner of Water and Bridge streets since they opened their first Kennebec County doughnut shop nearly six years ago.

When they arrived, they found a message in chalk on the sidewalk out front: “We love Frosty’s. We’ll see you soon. Stay safe.”

“That was just gut-wrenching to see,” Shelby Omdal said. “We hope to be back in some way, shape or form.”

The Omdals say the Gardiner and Freeport closures are permanent to preserve the long-term health of the company they bought in 2011.

“This is a direct result of what’s going on currently,” Shelby Omdal said. “This is the way to mitigate any more losses. Obviously, we’re completely shut down.”

The decision, which will affect employees — including family members, was not an easy one to reach, they said.

Nels, left, Shelby and Nic Omdal carry a counter Monday from the Frosty’s doughnut shop they closed in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

The Omdals, as much as anyone else, were blindsided by the near-immediate shutdown of their business due to the spread of coronavirus in Maine. On March 15, one of their wholesale accounts dropped them, followed by a second. On March 17, they voluntarily closed their doughnut shops in Augusta, Bath and Brunswick, all at properties they own, as well as those in Gardiner and Freeport, which are in leased spaces.

The day after that, Gov. Janet Mills ordered the closure of bars and restaurants to halt in-person service, but allowed restaurants to offer takeout, drive-through and delivery service. On Tuesday, Mills issued a statewide stay-at-home mandate starting Thursday for all but essential activities to slow the spread of the potentially deadly virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

Rather than pick and choose which staff members would stay and which would go, Omdals made the decision to close early, knowing that shutting their shops would be inevitable. And that was preferable to taking on debt to pay expenses with no revenue coming in.

“It was self-preservation for our brand, our company and our employees,” Shelby Omdal said. “We’d be setting ourselves up to lose the whole thing.”

The Omdals have been looking ahead from the day-to-day updates to summer, when tourists flock to Maine. They’ve been seeing the cancellation of cruises and bus tours, and a slew of other events that have fueled business for them and for other enterprises. That summer income is crucial for many to carry them through the slower winter months.

“We wait for that six-week (summer) window when we get everyone here,” Nels Omdal said. “It’s not going to happen this summer.”

“I think if we can get through this and get the country safe and healthy, I think Frosty’s will be in a great position to start rebuilding in communities,” Shelby Omdal said.

“We’re a comfort food,” Nels Omdal said. “So I have a feeling that once we’ve gotten opened back up, people will be very happy to come in and get some doughnuts.”

The widespread mandated business closures in recent weeks in Maine and across the United States are the third severe economic event to strike since the start of the century. The first was the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the second was the Great Recession, which started in 2008.

That’s the one that left a lasting impression on the Omdals.

“Nels worked for a bank, and I was in the mortgage industry,” Shelby Omdal said. “We learned so many hard, hard lessons in 2008, 2009 and 2010. We were so lucky to be able to rebuild our financial lives by obtaining properties.”

Nels, left, Shelby and Lucy Omdal clean up Monday at the Frosty’s doughnut shop they closed in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

What they learned then has been instructive in the decisions they are making now to mitigate losses, cut expenses and protect what they have.

The Omdals opened their Gardiner shop in 2014 after taking advantage of a financial incentive program that was encouraging businesses to expand to Gardiner.

The Gardiner Growth Initiative, a collaboration of the city of Gardiner, Gardiner Main Street, the Gardiner Board of Trade and the The Bank of Maine, which was acquired by Camden National Bank in 2015, was created to lure established business — retailers, restaurants and professional service providers — to Gardiner.

At the time, Nels Omdal said the incentives influenced the decision to open a Frosty’s in Gardiner. The incentives package totaled around $25,000, in the form of a grant and a forgivable loan.

The Gardiner Growth Initiative has since ended. While it was active, it also helped recruit Emery’s Meat and Produce. 

Melissa Lindley, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, the organization charged with revitalizing Gardiner’s downtown, said Frosty’s is the only permanent closure that she’s heard of to date.

Other Water Street businesses, including restaurants, have closed their doors in response to directives by public health officials to limit in-person contact to slow the spread of the contagious and dangerous coronavirus.

While a $2 trillion economic stimulus package has been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, it’s not clear how much assistance it will offer to small businesses and soon it will be available.

Lindley said Gardiner Main Street and the Augusta Downtown Alliance are starting to work to secure funds to help small businesses, likely to be available before any federal assistance arrives.

“I think a lot of people need to recognize this is not a failure of their business. When you have a business, it’s so personal,” Shelby Omdal said. “This is beyond anyone’s control, and the best you can do is adapt. Adapt to it and figure it out as you go. It’s not a personal failure if you can’t survive right now. But being able to come back will be important.”


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