It’s business as usual in the town of Jackman.

Despite nearly a week of scrutiny from news media outlets and an initial burst of outrage from internet users after the publication of the former town manager’s racist beliefs, business owners are saying that, so far, the attention has had little effect on their reputation as a tourist destination, and they’re trying to put the controversy behind them.

“We will survive this,” said Lisa Hall, the owner of Moose River Campground.

Hall hasn’t had any cancellations since the news reverberated through national media that Tom Kawczynski, the town manager whom Jackman’s selectmen fired Tuesday, had been running a website called New Albion, which espouses the idea that races should “voluntarily separate.”

Hall was among several business owners who were relieved Friday that blowback from the revelations about Kawczynski’s racism had not extended beyond poor reviews on some businesses’ Facebook pages. With a population of fewer than 800 people, an ongoing backlash against hotels, restaurants and sporting outfits who rely on tourists to travel to Jackman to snowmobile, hunt and fish could be detrimental to the region’s economy.

Out-of-town snowmobilers park alongside cars outside the Mountain Country Supermarket in Jackman. Staff photo by David Leaming

Dollars from taxable retail sales from restaurants and lodging in the Jackman Economic Summary Area, which includes Jackman, The Forks and Rockwood, totaled $21,475,600 in 2016, according to data from Maine Revenue Services.

While the local lumber mill employs many residents and Border Patrol officers contribute to the economy, the tourists are the ones who keep Jackman going, said Gary Hall, president of the Jackman-Moose River Region Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Northland Hotel and Lounge.

“If this is going to have any impact on tourism and the business community, who really knows?” Hall said in an interview Frida. “My thinking – and I know it’s shared by many other businesses – is that it’s kind of already in the rearview mirror. We’re moving on.”

In fact, Hall, the stepson of Lisa Hall, said he was more concerned about whether snow conditions would be good enough for snowmobilers to make the trek to Jackman than the possible effect Kawzcynski might have on the town’s economy down the line.

“If we don’t have the snow conditions, nothing matters. Nobody is going to come,” he said. “We’re barely OK right now. We’re one rainstorm away from being wiped out, but (also), we’re one snowstorm away from being as good as it can get.”

The welcome sign on the wall of Bishop’s Store in Jackman. Staff photo by David Leaming

DAMAGE CONTROL

Dmitri Markovitch, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Maine’s business school, said the Board of Selectmen sent a clear message that Kawczynski’s comments were not in line with the rest of the town when they acted swiftly to fire the town manager.

Markovitch, who joined the Maine Business School in June 2017, said after the negative publicity that revelations about Kawczynski brought to Jackman, his dismissal was a good first step in damage control.

Kawczynski triggered an outcry on Jan. 19 for views he expressed on his New Albion website and social media.

Posts on his Facebook page and Gab, an alt-right social media network, ranged from sympathizing with Nazis – writing Nazis were not villains but simply nationalists – to making appeals for racial segregation by sharing a meme that said: “Leaves are like civilizations. They change color as they die.”

On the New Albion website he wrote: “I believe in all people, living as they choose, in free determination. … While I am not an absolutist on race understanding, the many complications created by the American system, I do believe to the extent we voluntarily separate, the happier every group will be as they regain self-determination.”

He also attacked feminists.

“It’s no accident unattractive women make up the vast majority of feminists,” he said this month on Gab. “Their issue is less with the roles men and women play, and more with resentment about the lack of attention they draw from men due to these attributes.”

Former Jackman Town Manager Tom Kawczynski, right, awaits action Tuesday by Selectman Alan Duplessis and other members of the Board of Selectmen. The board voted unanimously to fire Kawczynski as town manager at a meeting attended by about 50 residents. Staff photo by David Leaming

During the first few days after the publication of Kawczynski’s beliefs on various news outlets, those outraged took to the Internet.

“This town apparently ‘just happened’ to hire a racist, misogynistic, white nationalist for a town manager. Yet, despite being extraordinarily public with his views he hasn’t been fired???” wrote Mae Landi on the Jackman-Moose River Region Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page on Jan. 20.

Landi was one of many who gave a one-star rating out of five to the chamber during the immediate backlash. Several users gave poor reviews and then updated their posts after the board fired Kawczynski.

“You have to show me you are willing to take decisive action against hate before I will ever go to your town,” John Footen initially wrote. After the emergency select board meeting, he added: “Edit. They have taken action. They deserve to be applauded.”

Only a few people left their one-star ratings up without alteration – and only one wrote a disapproving post after Kawczynski’s firing.

“Hired a white supremacist as town manager, then gave him a $30,000 severance check so he’d go quietly,” Ryan Doc Germain wrote Thursday. “Town run by people who cower in the face of white supremacy rather than stand up to it.”

‘TIME WILL TELL’

Some users targeted the Facebook pages of individual businesses in Jackman to express their dismay.

“White supremacist manager. Don’t know how they are still sustaining themselves when they hate minorities so much. Hope they crash and burn,” Kant Sri wrote on Long Pond Camps & Guide Service’s page Tuesday.

Debbie Petrin, who owns the business, told the Morning Sentinel on Monday that she had been bashed on Facebook.

“I feel that we shouldn’t have to be punished until we follow the steps that need to be taken. Give businesses the opportunity to react before he goes around branding us all racists. That’s very unfair,” she said.

Sandra Stevens, the owner of Mountain View Resort, said her business also was disparaged on Facebook.

“We had a very detrimental post on our Facebook page,” she said. “We had to ask Facebook to take it down.”

Brad Holden said a group who regularly stays at the Attean Lake Lodge, which has been in his family since 1905, sent Holden an email expressing concern over the situation before Holden eased his mind.

“He was anxious about it,” Holden said.

Holden and Stevens were both concerned when they first learned about Kawczynski and thought the town’s image might be tarnished.

“This town is dependent on tourists,” Stevens said.

But neither business owner has received any cancellations in the wake of the controversy.

“Time will tell,” Holden said.

Hall, the chamber president, said most of the tourists who come to Jackman are from New England and are regular visitors.

“It’s a New England draw. A lot of people who go up to Jackman know the stores, hotels and people in the area,” Hall said. “They know we’re a good, safe and friendly community. So we’ll get some snow, we’ll be really happy, and life will go on.”

Emily Higginbotham can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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