Frank’s Restaurant and Pub in Lisbon Falls welcomes a line of visitors during the Moxie Festival in this 2017 file photo. Darcie Moore / The Time Record

LISBON — Lisbon’s Main Street has seen a resurgence in recent years, drawing new restaurants and businesses to vacant spaces.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced some of those businesses to close and others to adapt to a drastic drop in sales. While restaurants are still allowed to do takeout and curbside business, Frank’s Restaurant and Pub has remained closed since mid-March. Traci Austin owns the restaurant with her husband and said they opted not to turn to takeout service at that point and gamble on getting enough orders to make it worthwhile.

“When it all happened it was like a light switch that went off,” she said. “We just chose not to do it knowing what unemployment was going to look like.”

They decided to keep paying their 23 part-time staff, most who have been with them since they opened in 2017 in the former Kennebec Fruit Co. store at the corner of Main Street and Route 196. Austin applied for payroll protection aid through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and said the money came in time to help them continue to pay their employees a little longer than they could otherwise.

“We hope our loyalty to them comes back with their loyalty to us when we are able to open,” she said.

For small businesses that don’t have payrolls, business owners are still awaiting relief funding. Tara Kieger opened Sweet Cakes Bake Shop on Route 196 about a 1½ years ago. She initially closed the shop but reopened with a small takeout menu. Then she found there was a demand for baking ingredients like flour, eggs and yeast, which she had in ample supply.

Once she posted that she was selling flour on Facebook she sold about 600 pounds in three days. Grazi To Go, a takeout only business in Lisbon Village that has seen business double since the pandemic, has also been carrying Sweet Cakes desserts.

Despite her ability to adapt, Kieger said her sales are down about 50% with the loss of the impulse traffic — like the person driving by who wants to buy a dozen donuts to bring to the office. She also does desserts for weddings and has had three weddings postponed. She banked some savings that is helping for now, “but the thing that scares me is how long are we going to go on like this?”

Because she doesn’t have employees, “Someone like me doesn’t qualify for any of the assistance,” she said.

Terry Marsteller owns The Hair Loft along 196 in Lisbon Falls where she rents booths to three other stylists, who can’t pay right now. All are considered self-employed and none have qualified yet for unemployment.

“Taking out loans doesn’t make sense if you can’t pay them back,” she said.

She is expecting to get support to help her business during the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home order in place. The Maine Department of Labor was expected to expand unemployment eligibility to include contractors and the self-employed as part of emergency federal legislation as soon as this week, according to The Portland Press Herald. The labor department was still asking those workers to hold off on making claims as of Wednesday.

“I can’t even think about it if it doesn’t (happen),” she said.

She said her mortgage owner has pushed out her payments by a few months, but she still has to pay taxes, electrical bills and for phone and internet services, which aren’t on hold. She is thankful her husband is still working and making an income and for now, her business is OK.

Now that businesses have adjusted to the new normal during the pandemic, “I think everybody is anxious to hear what the plan is going to be,” said Brett Richardson, Lisbon’s economic and community development director.

Greater clarity on how policymakers will decide when to open businesses back up again can help, as well as providing financial help to those small businesses that are falling through the crash of current relief programs.

Meanwhile, “I think the Lisbon community is stepping up,” he said.

Positive Change Lisbon, a local business organization, is helping to promote new business models, Richardson said.

“I think that helps local residents understand how they can be helpful with the best way to get revenue to those local businesses at this challenging time,” he said.

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