The exterior of Brunswick’s now permanently closed Salvation Army thrift store. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Brunswick’s Salvation Army thrift store will close for good after 18 years operating locally, the organization announced late last week.

The Salvation Army is an international Christian organization that operates retail stores selling donated goods.

In September, The Times Record reported that the organization expected the closure to be temporary, and the shutdown was attributed to the nationwide labor shortage.

“The decision to close the store was not made lightly,” Envoy Stephen Taylor, who oversees The Salvation Army thrift store in Brunswick, said in a press release. “But after much review, it seems to be the most responsible choice, especially in light of the struggles we’ve had maintaining adequate staffing at this location.”

The Salvation Army originally hoped to reopen the 127 Pleasant St. location on Sept. 21 after closing in late August, The Times Record reported.

According to the release, the store was forced to reduce hours and close several times throughout the COVID-19 pandemic due to staffing issues. The release stated that The Salvation Army regularly reviews the financial performance of stores, services and programs, and “offerings are discontinued only when absolutely necessary.”

The Brunswick location also worked with The Salvation Army’s social services program to help families in need through a voucher system. The release stated that assistance for financial hardship and other issues will continue to be available through the service office located in Bath at 25 Congress Ave. as well as in other stores, such as the locations in Portland, Lewiston and Raymond.

“The Salvation Army would like to thank the people of Brunswick for their understanding during this time of transition and for all of their support over the last 18 years,” the release stated.

Attempts to contact Taylor for further comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The Salvation Army, which was founded in 1865 and provides assistance to nearly 23 million Americans yearly, is not the only organization or business experiencing hardship due to the current labor shortage.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the preliminary labor force participation rate in Maine for September 2021 was 60.4%. For comparison, that figure stood at 59.4% in September 2020, and 62.7% in September 2019 — prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The industries most impacted between September 2019 and September 2021 include accommodation, which saw a 33% decline in employees, food and services at a 14% decline, and arts and education, also at a 14% decline.

The preliminary unemployment rate for September 2020 was 4.8%. For the same month in 2020 and 2019, it was 4.9% and 2.7%, respectively.

James Myall, a policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said that he believes a lack of available child care, as well as elevated risk from COVID-19 are two factors contributing to the shortage.

“That’s especially true for low-wage industries like restaurants, hotels, and care homes,” said Myall. “In addition to low wages, those businesses tend to have harder working conditions, including things like irregular schedules, which make it hard for people to take those jobs if they have competing needs like child care.”

According to Brunswick Downtown Association Executive Director Debora King, most businesses locally are suffering from a shortage in labor, but restaurants and those in food service seem to be suffering the most. She estimated 75% of dining businesses in Brunswick need more staff.

“I haven’t talked to a single restaurant downtown that’s fully staffed,” said King. “I think it’s important to concentrate our efforts and dollars on supporting these local businesses because if you don’t support them now, they’re not going to be around to support later.”

Outside of Brunswick, local eateries in both Bath and Topsham have also experienced difficulties with staffing.

Cafe Creme in Bath announced new hours of operation earlier this month after being forced to shorten them due to, in part, a shortage in labor incited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cafe announced in a Facebook post October 16 it will be closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays moving forward and will close at 1:30 p.m. on Sundays. The coffee shop was previously open seven days per week and has “always been proud of our ‘always open’ mantra,” the announcement reads, “but as you know, 2020 and 2021 have not been business as usual.”

“The final straw is the labor shortage that has left us understaffed on top of distribution issues, price hikes and changing labor mandates,” Cafe Creme Owner Tonnie Schultz wrote.

Schultz promised the cafe would return to its original operating hours as soon as additional staff can be hired and trained.

Drew Victory, the owner of the Topsham restaurant Blueberries, said he now has about six employees when they had 11 before the pandemic. During the pandemic, the restaurant moved to takeout service only without an in-person dining option. Victory said the restaurant’s food offerings haven’t changed, but some front-of-house offerings like smoothies aren’t available due to staff shortages.

“I don’t see us going back to table service ever,” Victory said. “If I could get more employees, we could expand our to-go format. We have good food and loyal customers, so we’re getting by, but it’s unfortunate that we can’t thrive.”

Victory said he’s concerned the struggling foodservice industry will eventually hurt the tourism industry Maine relies heavily on.


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