Kassi Ronan puts together a to-go order at CowBell Restaurant in Lewiston on Wednesday afternoon. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

POLAND — Roy Forsberg is now braced for business to be down 95% between May and August.

Mike Williams Jr. at Craft Brew Underground in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The owner of the Wolf Cove Inn shot off an angry letter to Gov. Janet Mills first thing Wednesday morning.

“Your restrictions are killing my business, but no one in your echo chamber seems to care,” Forsberg wrote. “Platitudes about ‘the greater good’ and ‘we’re in this together’ ring so hollow to me. We aren’t in this together.”

Mike Williams Jr. in Auburn understands the restrictions, but boy it hurts. He’s allowed to reopen Craft Brew Underground on July 1, provided there’s no spike in COVID-19 cases in the meantime.

“There is no knowing if and when we can come back, and there is no backup plan for small businesses that keep getting their opening dates pushed out, or eventually fail because of this,” he said.

Barbara Fogerty, co-owner of the Maine Wedding Barn and Event Center in Minot, lamented the hit to the peak wedding season and restrictions around out-of-state travelers self-quarantining.

“They must arrive 14 days before the wedding? And stay where?” she said.

Business owners around Lewiston-Auburn and western Maine on Wednesday were still grappling with Mills’ new four-part timeline to reopen the state’s economy, many talking about balancing “lives and livelihood.”

Jack Sours, vice president and general manager at Oxford Casino, said his team was “working diligently to provide the safest environment possible so we can meet the requirement to reopen under the governor’s plan,” but would offer no tentative date.

At Sunday River Resort, Karolyn Castaldo said the Sunday River Golf Club would open toward the end of May and summer activities like scenic chairlift rides would start July 2.

“We’re fortunate that so many of our activities are based in the outdoors and are able to be enjoyed by small groups with ample opportunity for distancing,” she said.

Sugarloaf hopes to open its golf course in June, according to spokesman Ethan Austin.

Both Boyne Resorts properties are still working on plans to reopen hotels and restaurants and host events again.

Drew Desjardins at Mr. Drew’s Exotic Rescue and Education Center in Lewiston said he likely won’t open this summer due to the center’s tight quarters, “which will hurt.”

“I am being cautious, as I have three immune-compromised individuals in my home and we are weighing out the options,” he said. “The travel part of the business has taken a large hit because most big public venues have already canceled this year, so it comes down to individual birthday (parties) and campgrounds, but it really is still all up in the air.”

Michael Dostie, owner of J. Dostie Jewelers and board chairman of the Downtown Lewiston Association, said he couldn’t understand the rationale that would allow businesses like salons to reopen before businesses like his with no physical contact.

He was, though, on the whole supportive of the timeline, hoping one result might be limiting tourists from states with more COVID-19 cases from spreading it further here.

“We have very, very low numbers in terms of hospitalizations, confirmed COVID-19 cases,” said Dostie. “Suddenly, we have a very attractive state for others to come to and we’re coming into our busiest tourism season. People want to come here anyway but now there’s an additional motivator in that, ‘Well, it’s a low-risk state, let’s get out of the hot zone and let’s get up to beautiful Maine.’

“(Mills’) early actions are a very large contributing factor for why our numbers are as low as they are,” Dostie added. “I appreciate the fact that the governor is cognizant of the risks if we just opened things up and say, ‘Yup, come to Maine.'”

Angela LeClair, board president of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, said using stages was a safe approach.

“I believe we all look forward to when we can go back to ‘business as usual, whatever that may look like,” she said.

Alex Markakis, who has continued curbside pickup and takeout at his Cowbell restaurants in Lewiston, Biddeford and Scarborough, said the severity of the pandemic hit him last month when he had to lay off 119 out of 129 employees in one day.

“I always look at the glass half-full, but the reality of it is, this is, like my father told me, ‘The no. 1 crisis that you have seen in your lifetime,'” he said.

He sees two challenges ahead: finding good help when unemployment pays more than some employees earned on the job and, when he finally reopens for in-restaurant dining later this summer, making sure customers feel safe.

“‘Hey, we’re open,’ now how long does it take for people to come back out of their house and be comfortable with normal life again,” Markakis said. “I know right off the bat we’re not going to be swarmed right away with an hour-and-a-half wait.”

MORE BUSINESS LEADERS REACT

The Sun Journal asked, what’s your reaction to yesterday’s announced reopening timeline?

Five companies and two chamber of commerce leaders, in their own words.

BEN LOW, SIDE BY EACH BREWING CO., AUBURN

“It’s not something one can exactly be happy with, but under the circumstances it seems reasonable. People ask all the time what they can do to help, and I always tell them, please stop by and get your beer and coffee when you’re out for other essential reasons, but other than that, stay home and stay safe and let’s get this behind us as quickly as we can.

Side By Each can survive with our current model (with some outside assistance) for a while, but the only long-term survival strategy is for us to get back fully open as soon as possible, and to stay that way. We’d rather have one longer shutdown than reopen too soon and have to shut down again if cases blow up. We’re also well aware that our kind of business carries a higher risk of transmission than some others, and we want to do what we can to support public health.

All that said, we are anticipating a slow, phased reopening.”

BARBARA FOGARTY, MAINE WEDDING BARN & EVENT CENTER, MINOT

“The wedding industry peak season is May-October. Maine is a wedding destination and the financial ripple effect is far and wide throughout the state.

A ‘possible’ 50 people (will be able to gather) for June, July and August. Three months with no increase in the number of people a business can service? It makes it difficult to cut family and friends out from your 100+ wedding day guest list that has been planned for one to two years in advance.

Gov. Mills needs to allow the private sector to do their job, with all safety guidelines in place and trust the people to make their decision to patronize a business.”

MIKE WILLIAMS JR., CRAFT BREW UNDERGROUND, AUBURN

“I 100% believe in the science, believe that the stay-at-home order was necessary and think it has been for the best overall. The evidence shows that it has worked.

Craft Brew Underground has survived the ups and downs of the first two years, and there were more than a few times that I thought it wouldn’t make it. Needless to say, my personal investment in it has been all encompassing, emotionally and physically. This new timeline really felt like I was being kicked while I was down. I look at what places are allowed to reopen . . .  There is nothing ‘safer’ about those places than my business. If we were to implement a process of limiting the number of patrons, spacing out seating in the establishment and moving to a reservation system, there’s no way our businesses aren’t equally safe, or even more so. It just seems very arbitrary the way it is being done.

I am going to continue to do weekly curbside, and will be moving into pouring draft beer to go in growlers, now that the state has lifted that restriction. For now the dream is still alive. Hopefully in another couple of months I can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to the regular routine of introducing the local folks to new beer from all over the world and giving them a place to go to hang out and treat themselves. It sounds pretty great really and seems like a lifetime ago that we were doing it.”

JESSICA DONOVAN, HILTON GARDEN INN AUBURN RIVERWATCH, AUBURN

“I think at the property level, none of us were surprised by the reopening timeline. Both hotel guests and associates have mixed feelings in knowing that the decisions are being made out of an abundance of caution for the health and well-being of our communities, but the future impacts are going to be enormous and even insurmountable for many, especially in the hospitality industry. . . We all need to find trust and reassurance that every decision is being analyzed to the fullest extent possible and embrace a level of patience that allows for compassion and kindness to shine through for one another.

The financial and emotional effects on employees and their families has been the most difficult aspect from my perspective. I am so very appreciative of the Department of Labor and the City of Auburn for their efforts to respond to our evolving questions. We’re used to being called on by our community for partnerships, donations and financial support and the current mandates don’t allow for us to ensure that financially we’ll be open for business tomorrow, let alone be the helping hand we strive to be. We might fly the Hilton flag, but we’re a locally-owned business employing local community members and we’re experiencing the same financial hardships as so many others.

Despite all the frustrations and fears over the mandates, our team is collectively focused on finding strategic ways to keep our doors open in order to support our local healthcare systems, our team members and others who find themselves on the frontlines.  We have learned on a very deep level, the appreciation for every dollar that is entrusted to us in this time of uncertainty!”

JESSIE PERKINS, BETHEL AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

“The plan released yesterday at least gives us a framework to work with and the trick now is to work together with business leaders to tweak the details. Businesses want to make their own cases about how they can safely operate and serve their customers given the current situation, and chamber leaders and industry representatives will work together to make sure that happens to the extent that it’s possible.

It’s important to remember that we’re in a pretty privileged place so far in that we haven’t experienced widespread outbreaks. As we gradually open up our doors more, to each other as locals and to outsiders as tourists, we risk giving up that privilege. We need healthy human beings to be both the workforce and the customers. But, in the meantime, the risk to the economy is tremendous as well. Our task is to continuously walk the tightrope between those two things until we get to the other side of this. It’s going to get harder the longer it goes, especially as people are less willing to be cooped up as the weather gets nicer.”

SHANNA COX, LEWISTON AUBURN METROPOLITAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

“From the hospitality members, we’re hearing a lot of concern around the 14-day quarantine. I think it provides a lot of uncertainty and a lack of clarity around the ability to take registrations for future dates. We’re fortunate we’re not Bar Harbor and the impact to tourism isn’t the predominant portion of our industry, but absolutely members in hospitality services are trying to feel this out.

There’s also concerns about the safety of the workforce and liabilities around reopening and knowing what liability a business holds if an employee gets sick on the job and what they have to take for precautions and what that might be. There’s just so many variables. There is absolutely a tension between public health and operations and economy and making sure both lives and livelihoods are balanced in the equation.

There’s the potential that a (reopening) stage could be pushed back and I think it’s that level of uncertainty that makes it really hard to operate a business right now.”

ROY FORSBERG, WOLF COVE INN, POLAND

“We’ve contacted our May reservations to cancel. We are offering to refund their deposits but also asking if they’d accept a gift certificate for 25% more than the deposit amount in lieu of refunding deposits. You see, that’s the double whammy for us. Not only aren’t we getting new reservations, but we have to return deposits for reservations made as much as a year ago. Those deposits keep us solvent in the winter months when business is very slow.

I’ve looked at my stats and more than 95% of my business (from May to August) is out-of-state business. I will attempt to refocus my entire marketing to target only Mainers. That may have an impact, but I just don’t know if it can. We’ll have a soaring unemployment rate in Maine, so I don’t know who’ll be traveling. That said, there are Mainers who’ll need to get away and I imagine they won’t want to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Maine. So maybe they’ll look to Maine businesses. One can hope.”

Some responses were edited for space.

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