Pastries typically lead to bigger waistlines, but for the company that’s operating the new ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, they’re causing heartburn.
In the month or so that the Nova Star ferry was tied up in Portland before it started its daily round-trip service last week, the ship’s operator lined up a Maine-based food service supplier, a dry cleaner to provide fresh sheets and tablecloths, and a local bakery to deliver 800 pastries a day.
The ship will buy its fuel in Portland because Yarmouth doesn’t have a fuel barge, and even the ship’s lobsters are likely to be bought in Maine because Canada harvests most of its lobsters in the winter, when the Nova Star won’t be operating.
A Portland Press Herald story on Monday pointed out the economic boon that Portland expects from the restored ferry service – and touched off criticism on social media, mostly from chagrined Canadians who questioned why Portland is reaping the benefits while their government is providing a $21 million subsidy to the ferry service over seven years.
Bob Doen, a photographer in Yarmouth, posted one of the strongest comments, asking, “If Maine is so important to its success, why didn’t (the ferry operator) get its $21 million funding there from its government or the business it supports there, eh? Ever hear of people skills or good relations? Perhaps consideration?”
Nova Star Cruises scrambled to respond with a post explaining that Portland offers quicker service than Yarmouth because its businesses have experience supplying the dozens of cruise ships that visit in the summer and early fall.
Dennis Bailey, whose Portland firm Savvy Inc. provides public relations services to Nova Star Cruises, said that Yarmouth, with just 7,200 residents, doesn’t offer the range of ship services that Portland does.
Bailey also pointed out that Nova Scotia got many of the jobs associated with the ferry, from staffing the reservations call center to information technology and security services, plus accounting and legal services. He said the number of direct jobs is expected to reach 27 soon.
Bailey acknowledged that the negative reaction caught Nova Star Cruises off-guard. Initially, he said, the Press Herald article seemed like good press, pointing out how Portland businesses are benefiting from the ship’s presence.
“By that night, we said, ‘Uh-oh, there’s another side of the coin,’ ” he said.
Bailey said Nova Star Cruises’ contract with Canada requires it to consider Canadian businesses for provisions but he doesn’t think there’s a specific amount that has to be purchased in Nova Scotia.
He said some of the ship’s glassware, artwork and frames are Canadian, and the cruise line is talking to shops in Yarmouth about providing sandwiches.
“The reaction up there was, ‘How come we’re not getting any business?’ but they are,” he said.
“We are sort of finding out things as we go. It’s a shakedown cruise and we’re still figuring stuff out. We tell people, ‘If you’re not on our vendor list today, you may be tomorrow.’ ”
Karen Churchill, president of the Yarmouth Area Chamber of Commerce, said she’s trying to calm troubled waters by reminding businesses in her community that their payoff will come this summer, when the ship discharges as many as 1,200 tourists at a time into the town on Nova Scotia’s southwest coast.
“The reason we got this subsidy is for travelers to stay here in Yarmouth and go through our shops,” she said. “They have to eat and they shop, and they later head to the bed-and-breakfasts. Both sides are going to benefit, we’re just going to benefit in different ways.”
Her comments were echoed by Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood, who said issues like contracts for provisions will work out over time.
“We need to give them a minute to get up and running and then sort out all of the details,” she said.
Mood noted that the government subsidy is intended to bring tourists to Yarmouth, which lost tourism dollars after The Cat, a high-speed ferry, stopped running between Maine and Nova Scotia more than four years ago.
She said she wishes that Nova Star Cruises had made more deals with Canadian vendors – and noted that the company said it will try to buy more Nova Scotian seafood this summer – but the bigger payoff will come in July, August and September.
“Send over 100,000 visitors. That’s where it’s going to make a difference and that’s where the economic benefit will happen,” Mood said. “The most important thing is to get the visitors here.”
Nathan Bain, who operates the Old World Bakery and Deli in Yarmouth, said the ferry’s operators didn’t ask him if he could supply pastries or other provisions for the ship. But it was moot. He doesn’t have nearly enough capacity to churn out the 66 dozen baked goods a day that the ship needs – and found at the Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland.
But Bain said he saw a boost in his breakfast business – the ferry gets to Yarmouth at 8 a.m. daily – in just the first five days of service and he’ll concentrate on that side of the business.
Churchill, the Yarmouth chamber president, said businesses on both sides of the Gulf of Maine have to look at the ferry service as an opportunity to forge a partnership, rather than a competition, and not worry about who is doing what at the outset.
“It’s not us against them,” she said. “We’re a team and we’ve got to make this work.”
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: