Many businesses in downtown Brunswick have signs like this one, outside Pedro O’Hara’s, welcoming Bowdoin College students. Bowdoin announced Wednesday that students will not return to campus after spring break due to concerns over the coronavirus. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Bowdoin College announced Wednesday that students are not to return to campus after spring break ends and that classes will be conducted remotely; a decision made to help protect students and the community from coronavirus. But some business owners are feeling less than comforted. 

“My phone has been ringing off the hook with cancellations,” said Eileen Horner, owner of the Brunswick Inn. “I don’t know if I can stay open, I don’t know how I’m going to pay my employees, I’ve refunded thousands of dollars today,” she said Wednesday. 

This time of year, roughly 85% of her business is generated by the college, she estimated, with bookings from grandparents visiting, high schoolers on spring break taking college tours, professors interviewing or giving visiting lectures or athletes and their families traveling for competitions. 

Her business is driven by tourists in the summer, “but this time of year (Bowdoin) is everything,” she said. “I’m just reeling.” 

Horner knows the college made the decision with the best interest of the students, faculty and staff in mind, she said, and it’s not a decision the school would have made lightly, but “I feel for my friends in town who have businesses that rely on traffic generated by the students,” she said. “All small business owners are trying to figure out how we’re going to weather this.” 

The coronavirus, a respiratory disease first detected in China, has now been declared a global pandemic, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday. There are more than 112,000 confirmed cases. The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019,” abbreviated “COVID-19.”

“Obviously having a certain percent of the population not here any longer will have an impact of some sort,” Deb King, executive director of the Brunswick Downtown Association said, but she has not heard concerns from specific businesses.  

So far, coronavirus has not been detected in Maine, but if it does, she said she hopes people will be smart and wash their hands.

Becky Shepherd, owner of Wild Oats Bakery and Cafe said they are going to take the situation day by day. 

“It’s hard to know where this journey is going to take us,” she said. “We are trying to be as prepared as we can. We do see a large number of Bowdoin students and the Bowdoin community every day. … But I think our larger concern is that we have a big elderly population that we need to protect, and how we can play our part in stopping the spread (of the virus).” 

The announcement from Bowdoin College was a “tipping point,” she said, and it hit home how close the virus might be from making an appearance in Brunswick. Starting Thursday, Wild Oats will no longer serve food in reusable containers customers have brought from home, bread and unpackaged food will only be available by request in the cash area, they will no longer offer food samples, self-serve ice will be removed, and customers will be asked to use wax paper when handling any food products or using soup ladles. 

Surfaces will continue to be cleaned and sanitized regularly. 

“It’s forced us to respond immediately,” Shepherd said.  

Much remains uncertain, including when Bowdoin College commencement ceremonies, currently scheduled for May 23, will take place, but college officials are firm that it will. 

“We have not cancelled commencement,” said Scott Hood, senior vice president for communications and public affairs. “We’ll figure out a way to hold commencement. It may not be the Saturday before Memorial Day weekend, but we’ll have it.” 

A cancellation would have a severe impact on local businesses, especially the Brunswick Hotel, which reserves exclusively to Bowdoin College family members during that weekend. 

“We keep a long list for graduation, it books up a year in advance,” Sandra Leavitt, front office manager said. All 51 rooms are already reserved. 

“We’re very hopeful graduation will still happen, for us and for the students,” she said. 

A cancelled graduation could have other, less obvious effects too. 

Peter Eichleay, a fixed base operated for Flight Level Aviation at Brunswick Executive Airport, said that 15-20% of turboprop and jet operations between Nov. 1 and May 31 are related to Bowdoin College.

“While this doesn’t impact airport movements (takeoffs and landings) much, it will hurt fuel sales dramatically for that time period,” he said in an email. “Fortunately, most of our fuel business occurs from June 1 – Sept. 30.”

King said they will have to wait and see, but cautioned not to “let fear overcome common sense” when it comes to the virus. “I’m sure everyone wants to return to a business-as-usual approach, but we can’t ignore what’s going on,” she said. 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.