One need look no further than the stock market to see how the coronavirus is making the national economy ill – and it’s also happening in Maine.

The stock market decline has hit Maine-based businesses just as hard as large, national companies, with the stock price of almost every publicly traded company based in the state falling to a 52-week low over the past few days.

The stock price of Portland-based Wex Inc., one of Maine’s largest publicly traded companies, with about 1,500 Portland-area workers, fell by 49 percent over the past month, from $231.60 on Feb. 17 to $118.73 Tuesday. Tennessee-based Unum Group, which has roughly 3,000 employees in Maine, experienced a stock price drop of 55 percent, from $29.97 on Feb. 17 to $13.44 Tuesday.

Many other locally based businesses are feeling down in the dumps, too. Announcements from retailers deciding to close their stores accelerated over the weekend, with L.L. Bean, Bull Moose and Springer’s Jewelers among those deciding so many customers were staying home that it didn’t make sense to stay open and possibly expose employees to contamination.

Restaurants and bars have been closing outright or at least limiting their hours, with many switching to takeout business only. About the only bright spot is that the social distancing, self-quarantining and working from home is occurring in March, well before Maine’s tourist season gets underway with warmer weather in June and July.

Some business owners said the winter, which has been relatively mild, was fairly good until the virus emerged as a major public health threat earlier this month.

“February was good, March has not been great and April is not looking good,” said Katie Schier-Porocki, who owns Bread and Butter Catering Co. in South Portland.

Steve Gauvin installs a lock on a door at the L.L. Bean flagship store Monday in Freeport. Bean is closing all of its retail stores to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

A good part of Schier-Porocki’s business is catering business meetings. But many companies have eliminated face-to-face meetings and some have canceled their orders with Bread and Butter as a result.

Schier-Porocki said her company has a policy of requiring a 50 percent deposit, but rather than just pocketing that money if an order is canceled, she said, she’s working with customers to find solutions, such as pushing the order off into the future when meetings are held again.

“I think we’re going to see more of that flexibility,” she said. “My main concern now is keeping my employees employed.”

Schier-Porocki also said she’s casting a wary eye three months down the road, when the wedding season kicks into gear. She’s already working with one client to reschedule an event, and she’s concerned that others may be moved if health officials continue to discourage large gatherings.

Portside Realty Group will be canceling all open houses until the threat from the virus is under control, said Dava Davin, principal of the Falmouth-based real estate agency.

Davin said no one – home sellers, buyers or the brokers themselves – is that interested in an event in which dozens of strangers meet while a communicable disease is circulating in the community

“We are just trying to figure out how this is going to affect us,” she said. “We are definitely going to see people put everything on hold. There’s a complete slowdown in showings.”

Chairs were stacked on tables at the closed Gritty McDuff’s in Portland on Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day. “It is one of the most important days of the year because it is the biggest day that comes after a long, hard winter,” said owner Richard Pfeffer. “This is a mighty blow to the industry for sure.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The only positive, Davin said, is that the Maine real estate market was hot over the winter. So if it’s going to slow down, as least it’s coming down from a fast pace.

“We’re just trying to take it day by day,” she said.

Looking for a silver lining, she said people will be home a lot more and might look around the house for some do-it-yourself projects that would make the house easier to sell.

“All of our processes have changed,” Davin said. “We supplied a 15-page guidebook to the agents yesterday (Monday) on how to put safety first, practice social distancing and do our part to flatten the curve while servicing the needs of our clients.”

A big economic area of concern is the hospitality and travel business, which has an economic impact that ripples throughout the state.

Times ahead will be tough, said Richard Pfeffer, owner of Gritty McDuff’s. The brewery and restaurant chain has locations in Portland, Freeport and Auburn.

“Obviously a lot of people are nervous – we are very nervous about what it is going to do to our business,” he said.

A man walks down a nearly empty Fore Street, seen from inside the closed Gritty McDuff’s restaurant and bar on St. Patrick’s Day. Richard Pfeffer, the owner of Gritty McDuff’s, said that as the virus outbreak goes on, it will have a big impact on his suppliers and employees. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Business since late last week has been soft, Pfeffer said.

A Portland curfew for certain businesses meant a shutdown in the city Tuesday, which was St. Patrick’s Day. In addition to the lost sales revenue, he said, Gritty’s will have to deal with bills for extra food that was brought in and employees will have lost wages and tips.

“It’s one of our busiest days of the year,” he said. “That’s all gone now.”

As the virus outbreak drags on, Pfeffer said, it will have a big impact on his suppliers and employees.

“The ripple effect from this is staggering,” he said.

Pfeffer said he’s hopeful an economic stimulus package will put more money in people’s pockets, but that will have little effect for him unless steps are taken to stem the spread of the virus and make people feel comfortable going out again.

He said encouraging social distancing and efforts to limit large gatherings are “necessary steps,” but what’s most needed “is to curb the panic.”

Staff Writer Peter McGuire contributed to this story.

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