LEWISTON — Joe Walker is doing the best he can, but his outlook?

Not optimistic.

The manager of both Schemengees Bar and Grill and the Station Grill Restaurant in Lewiston, he’s already had to layoff four employees.

Four dart teams have walked out on him, he says, because state COVID mandates won’t allow food and drink to be consumed around the dart lanes.

“That’s about 20 shooters who went right out the door,” Walker said on Thursday, as Gov. Janet Mills announced a mandate that will force businesses like Schemengees to close at 9 p.m.

He’s also losing customers who used to go to Schemengees to play corn hole or pool. That means more lost revenue and there’s no real end in sight.

Can the business survive under these conditions?

“I doubt it,” Walker says. “I mean, we’re doing the best we can, but I don’t see that happening. We’re not making the money to keep our staff working and our doors open.”

On another side of the city, at Legends Sports Bar and Grill, owner Melinda Small is facing the same pressures. Like Walker, she’s trying the best she can to think creatively and to work around the COVID restrictions, old and new.

She removed the pool tables, for instance, because customers don’t like shooting pool if they can’t have food and drink while doing it. That made room for more socially-distanced dining.

Legends has also been offering takeout or in-car dining and they plan to start serving breakfast in hopes of increasing revenue. Small has been engaged in this kind of creative maneuvering since spring when businesses were first hit with restrictions on the hours they can keep and the manner in which they serve and entertain their customers.

For the most part, she tries to do it without complaint.

“Whether I agree with these mandates or not, I respect them,” she said. “They are the rules. The requirements. I’m not going to fight the system. I take the approach where I just say, what can I do to keep my people employed and my doors open?”

It’s not getting any easier, though.

Mills on Thursday announced the new 9 p.m. curfew on all restaurants, movie theaters, tasting rooms and casinos as daily coronavirus cases jumped higher than 200 yet again and hospitalizations set a new record.

“As we enter the colder months and a holiday season when we customarily gather with friends and family, we are also entering a new and dangerous phase of the pandemic,” Mills said in a statement. “Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have been performing a balancing act, basing our decisions on science and medical expertise, weighing the safety of reopening with the necessity of getting back to business.”

The latest mandate extends until Dec. 6, but both Walker and Small know how that goes. It doesn’t mean the new restriction goes away once that date is reached. Indeed, in her statement on Thursday, Mills said: “other steps may be necessary in the coming weeks if we do not get this virus under control.”

For a small business owner, it’s ominous.

“People say that we’re all in this together,” Small said. “But we’re going to come out from it very differently.”

Each time she implements a new plan to work around the restrictions, Small said, it requires money — setting up an outdoor patio for dining, for instance, cost $5,000 at a time when there’s less revenue coming in. On top of that, each new change requires that she retrain her teams, which Small says is both costly and time consuming.

And the new mandates restricting business hours even more further limit how much time Small has to get these things done.

Walker understands the frustration. Particularly hard, he says, is that there is no real light at the end of the tunnel. He might survive until Dec. 6, but there’s no guarantee that the next mandate isn’t going to be even more rigid.

“The next step she might take is closing all restaurants again,” he said. “She’s closing everything. It might go right back to the way it was in March.”

Walker said he has had conversations with other small business owners who told him outright that if that happens, they won’t be able to reopen. Small said she has heard an estimate from one city official who figures that 50 percent of small business in the Lewiston-Auburn area won’t survive the mandates.

Walker said the latest mandate, demanding that he close at 9 p.m., will likely mean he’ll have to layoff another two workers.

Legends had been staying open until 11 p.m., although once they got rid of their pool tables, they starting closing earlier.

At Fast Breaks in Lewiston, owner Mike Richard said his business has been able to survive mainly due to the loyalty of his clientele.

“Our customers have shown even through this adversity that we still can remain a viable business,” he wrote. “This business is not so much our family’s creation as it is a creation and representation of the will of our customers.”

At other businesses around the area, owners and managers reported the same stresses as Walker and Small, although some were not comfortable making their opinions public. One said he could see both sides to the issue — the mandates are killing small business, he acknowledged, but if they’re necessary to stop the pandemic, what could be done?

Ultimately, each of them made the same vow. They would do their best to survive, they said, no matter how hard they had to work to do it.

“It’s crazy how we’ve been able to overcome,” Small said. “People, at first glance, say ‘oh, you’ve been so lucky.’ But there’s no luck. We have been working four times harder.

“If I wasn’t a positive, optimistic thinker,” Small said, “I’d be exhausted.”

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