Cyndi Robbins stands in the empty dining room at Cyndi’s Dockside Restaurant on Route 26 in Poland on Thursday morning. She estimates her business is doing an even split between takeout, outside and inside dining. She has concerns, like other restaurant owners, about what will happen when outside dining isn’t possible in cold weather. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — With both a resort and restaurant in Poland, Cyndi Robbins is fielding questions from anxious guests and brides this summer — Can my bridal party take a maskless group photo? Can we dance? How often are the drapes washed? — and wondering herself what happens come fall.

Thirty percent of Cyndi’s Dockside Restaurant’s business is from outdoor diners.

How’s that going to be made up?

“We lose that outside part, it’s definitely going to hurt,” Robbins said. “We’ll probably go back to delivery. I don’t know if there will still be need as much as there was when everybody was on lockdown.”

On Thursday morning, the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce held a virtual session asking local businesses about current working conditions and concerns about the months ahead.

President Shanna Cox said the effort was in concert with the Portland and Greater Bangor chambers, all of whom are after members’ feedback to bring to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

They want a voice in “what DECD is considering when they start to think about cold weather options and updates to the guidelines and supports that they give businesses,” Cox said.

Several agreed rebuilding staff remains the biggest struggle.

At the start of the pandemic, the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch hotel was “cutting every possible expense we could,” General Manager Jess Donovan said. “Payroll is our biggest expense. It worked for the time being, but we knew it would hit us and it’s hitting us right now.”

As occupancy levels are starting to grow, more guests are booking “24 hours, maybe 48 hours out, which is creating a complete nightmare for our scheduling purposes, but we’ll take it,” she said. “Every morning we wake up, we’re anxious to look at the numbers of what came in. Last night, we picked up 30 rooms in literally a six-hour period. The leisure (traveler) is more of a four-to-five day window, which is definitely shorter than normal summers.”

Paul Landry, the owner of Fish Bones Grill in Lewiston and Pint Point Grill in Scarborough, said both are suffering from labor issues.

“I’m working like I was a teenager right now and that’s just because people aren’t looking for work, or if they are, they’re not finding me,” he said. “We’re paying $20/hour just to retain people.”

Echoed Robbins: “I’m looking for three cooks right now to keep my restaurant open.”

Landry is seeing more tourists and diners with summer homes in Scarborough than in Lewiston.

“I don’t know how many people are checking temperatures or asking where you’re from,” he said. “Most people, when we’re talking to them, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Wherever you want us to be from.’ How much more are you going to probe or throw people out?”

Asked any steps they’re taking in the coming months, Airport Director Rick Lanman said the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport would change out faucets and other bathroom fixtures to touchless devices, add more hand sanitizer stations and install ultraviolet lights to the air handling system “to better maintain a healthy environment for our customers, airport users and the airport staff.”

Landry said he was looking at an investment in space heaters for his patio to stretch the outdoor dining season, but wondered how long it will take for that investment to pay off.

“I think as the weather starts to cool down a little bit, it will work, but as soon as I drop the sides on my (outdoor dining) canopies, I’m an indoor space now,” he said. “That brings all of those fears that people still may have about being in close proximity to people in an indoor space.”

Several business leaders complained they’re facing arduous, and sometimes conflicting guidance from the state when it comes to restaurant, lodging and gatherings rules.

Robbins is telling couples scheduled to hold weddings at her Poland Spring Resort that she’s not yet sure about dancing or taking that maskless photo with the wedding party and getting some pushback, describing one bride as “mad at me as hell” over state restrictions.

“‘If I had known I had to obey all these laws, I would have put off my wedding’ — where has your head been for the last six months?” she said. “Very frustrating.”

She’s seeing about 120 guests staying at the resort each weekend, down from past years.

“Seventy-five percent of them are staying in cottages and they’re refusing to stay in a hotel room,” Robbins said. “They’re asking questions like, ‘Do you wash the curtains every time?’ I got a call yesterday where a guy wanted to know whether we wash our carpets between each guest. We get so many questions.”

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