October 3, 2013

Bar Harbor feels ill effects of government shutdown

A lobster bake company loses thousands of dollars as cruise ships cancel orders, and restaurants and other businesses fear the worst with Acadia National Park closed down.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BAR HARBOR — Troy Mace was prepared to feed a lunchtime lobster bake to 250 people on Tuesday.

click image to enlarge

Despite the closed sign, Titus Steinberg, 5, of Herne, Germany, hops over the gate at Acadia National Park’s Echo Lake in Southwest Harbor on Wednesday, along with his parents Oliver, at left, and Ramona.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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At 9 a.m., he got a call. The cruise ship tour for 150 had canceled the reservation for two hours later.

At 10:30 a.m., he got another call. The second seating wasn’t coming in either.

Bar Harbor Lobster Bakes, whose business model relies on serving large groups of tourists who come through Acadia National Park, has lost more than 300 customers and thousands of dollars since the park closed Tuesday because of the federal government shutdown.

“I feel betrayed,” said Mace as he watered flowers outside his restaurant Wednesday. “I’m a loyal American who pays taxes and votes, and I feel like those guys aren’t doing their jobs.”

Bar Harbor Lobster Bakes is close to the Hulls Cove entrance to the park, but a couple miles from the downtown. So tour groups – Mace’s only customers – have no reason, or way, to get to the restaurant if they’re not going to the park.

Other restaurants and shops along Bar Harbor’s main drag were busy Wednesday, but employees said they feared what would happen if the park stayed closed and the bus tours and cruise ships stopped coming.

“That’s going to absolutely crush the local economy here,” said Andy Cough, owner of Acadia National Park Tours, which buses people from downtown Bar Harbor through the park and back.

At this time of year – what he called “a lot of people’s gravy” – his 44-passenger buses are always filled. But more than 25 percent of his reservations have canceled since the shutdown, he said. The rest have opted for the tour he’s offering around the rest of Mount Desert Island.

With only a small cruise ship coming in on Thursday, a total of 12 people are signed up for his two tours. He expects half of them to cancel.

“I think what we’re in for is really going to show,” said Cough.

Charles Phippen, Bar Harbor’s harbormaster, said an agent for the Holland America Line has indicated that if Acadia stays closed, its ships will reroute to Portland.

The Veendam, a 1,350-passenger ship, is scheduled to be in Bar Harbor on Friday and again on Sunday. The Eurodam, which holds more than 2,000 passengers, is supposed to arrive Saturday.

Phippen said 37 ships are scheduled to come in through October, including several owned by Holland America.

That’s what concerns Amanda Austin, manager of Testa’s Restaurant on Main Street. Austin keeps a calendar of the ships that are coming in and the number of passengers they carry. It’s in a red binder that she held Wednesday.

“It’s how we decide how much staff we have working, how much lobster we order – everything,” she said.

The Bluenose Inn isn’t as tied to the cruise ships, but it does depend on business from bus tours, which can fill up as many as half of the 97 rooms in the hotel, said General Manager Jim Ash.

So far, none of the tour bus groups have canceled their reservations. “ ‘So far’ is the operative term,” he said.

But a handful of other customers have canceled, Ash said. Another handful left early.

“If I seem bitter about it, I am,” he said. “It’s a disgrace that this has happened.”

As visitors from Lancaster, Pa., loaded onto their Conestoga Tours bus after shopping downtown Wednesday afternoon, the bus driver, Eric Stein, said they were upset that they couldn’t get into the park, which he said is half the attraction of Bar Harbor.

“You take half of it away, it doesn’t make them all that happy,” he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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