Dennis Fogg, owner of Uncle Andy’s Diner in South Portland, takes a break from working in the kitchen. Fogg is hoping to keep his business open a little longer and expects mostly takeout orders because of the coronavirus. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Dennis Fogg kept Uncle Andy’s diner open Tuesday because he felt he had to. He has rent to pay and he bought a ton of food for St. Patrick’s Day dinners that he needs to sell. Plus, he figures every day that he can stay open might help – at least a little – in keeping his business alive in the long run.

“I just laid off my son and the other two employees here, and now it’s just me and my wife,” said Fogg, 57, who has owned the landmark South Portland diner for 17 years. “I want to try to get rid of as much stock as possible for when we do close, soon. I’m not sure what happens after that. This could be it for us.”

Eateries, bowling alleys, movie theaters and micro-breweries were among the nonessential businesses open around southern Maine Tuesday, despite calls for social distancing and limiting gatherings to 50 people or less. Owners said they were grappling with the dilemma of whether to serve customers in some way and earn at least some revenue, or close and eliminate any chance that they’ll help spread the coronavirus. The latest federal guidelines recommend against gatherings of more than 50 people, although President Trump on Monday recommended gatherings of no greater than 10.

“I certainly have thought about that,” Fogg said about the possibility that his restaurant could help spread the virus. “I guess people could be affected, but no more than people going to banks and grocery stores.”

Gov. Janet Mills has advised against large gatherings, but has not ordered any business closures, as other states have. Some of Maine’s cities and towns have enacted restrictions on bars and restaurants, including Portland, Brunswick, Rockland, Augusta, Bangor and Waterville.

Massachusetts closed all sit-down bars and restaurants through April 6, though businesses can still do takeout and delivery. Eighteen other states have imposed similar strict measures, including New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan and Colorado, after social media photos of long lines at bars and restaurants caused an outcry that such crowds were undermining social distancing policies.

Dr. Meghan May, an infectious disease expert at the University of New England, said half measures and voluntary recommendations may not work as well as the strict policies of some other states. She said if some large gatherings are closed, but people are packing into bars and restaurants, that may reduce the effectiveness of the social distancing policies.

Derrick Fogg and Eric Morrill have the dining room to themselves Tuesday as they have corned beef and cabbage dinner at Uncle Andy’s Diner in South Portland. Andy’s Diner is trying to stay open a little longer and expected takeout orders for St. Patrick’s Day. Derrick Fogg is the nephew of Andy’s owner Dennis Fogg. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“Strictly from a public health standpoint, if we only do partial measures, that may not be enough,” May said, adding that she understands a lot goes into these decisions beyond public health, such as impact on the economy. “If you have strong interventions, that may interrupt the spread of the virus.”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Tuesday that Maine has seen “good compliance” among its commercial establishments to the voluntary state guidelines about limiting crowds and exposure and encouraging social distancing.

Fogg said he was limiting crowd potential, mostly selling corned beef dinners to go. He said he didn’t have more than three or four people in the place at any one time.

Fore River Brewing Co. in South Portland started a curbside beer pickup service on Monday as a way to keep some income coming in, co-owner John Legassey said on Tuesday. The brewery’s tasting room is closed Mondays and Tuesday anyway, so Legassey said starting curbside pickup was a way to try to get a little more revenue. He said that the brewery’s tasting room, which brings in about 30 percent of its revenue, will probably be closed Wednesday or soon after because of government recommendations.

Legassey said the curbside pickup service is designed to strictly limit contact and exposure. People can call, order their beer, and then phone again when they get to the parking lot. Someone from the brewery, wearing gloves, will deliver the beer and hand it to customers in their cars.

“We will tell people to stay in their car, and we won’t reach into the car or put our heads in the car,” Legassey said. “We read about breweries in other states doing this and felt it was a good way to minimize exposure and still do some business.”

Mike Walker, owner of Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough, surveys the nearly empty lanes Tuesday. League play was canceled for the rest of the week, he said. “We’re just following guidelines coming down from the president and trying to limit the number of people who are gathering.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Several bowling alleys in the area were still open Tuesday, partly out of loyalty to customers and partly to catch up on cleaning and long-term maintenance that might be needed before a long shutdown.

At Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough, owner Mike Walker decided Monday to keep the place open because he had several leagues coming in, including a men’s league Monday night. But by Tuesday he had decided to cancel the bowling center’s leagues, including several with elderly bowlers, out of concern for the virus’ effect on older people. On Tuesday afternoon, he was still open to answer phone calls, do some cleaning and let the few people who showed up bowl. He said he figures he’ll need to close soon, either because of state requirements or the complete lack of bowlers.

“It’s an awkward situation. Some people should definitely stay home, and some call us up and say, ‘You aren’t really closing, are you?’ ” said Walker. When asked whether he’s concerned that staying open longer might contribute to the virus’ spread, Walker replied, “I think everyone has to be concerned.”

“I think people are getting the hint that they have to hunker down and be boring for a while,” Walker said. “We’re getting ready to do that.”

In Westbrook, 33 Elmwood has closed its bowling center but has kept its restaurant open for takeout orders, said Chris Kast, a spokesman for the business. Kast said the business owners made the decision partly to keep the business open and employees getting paid, and partly to serve people in the area who might not have time or resources to cook their own meals. He said the restaurant will come up with a special menu with lower prices. People will have to come in to pick up food, but the restaurant is so large no one will have to come very close to anyone else, Kast said.

William Tompkins of Portland sits in the otherwise empty Big 20 Bowling Center on Tuesday afternoon while watching a friend take his turn. “We just wanted to go out and do something before they shut everything down,” he said. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When asked if staying open means the restaurant may expose people to the virus, Kast said that staff will do “everything humanly possible” to keep people safe, including wearing gloves and bleaching surfaces frequently.

Several movie theaters around southern Maine were open Tuesday, including those run by Flagship Cinemas and Cinemagic.  Cinemagic initially made the decision to keep its theaters open as a way to give people some place to go and escape for a while from stress and tension, said Zachary Adam, marketing director for Cinemagic. But by late Tuesday afternoon, the New England chain announced it would close its three Maine theaters – in Westbrook, Saco and South Portland – beginning Wednesday and through April 7.

Adam said the decision was made to close the Maine theaters “in line with the rest of the company.” The Cinemagic theaters in Massachusetts and New Hampshire had already been closed by order of those states’ governors.

An email and phone call to Flagship Cinemas seeking information about the decision to stay open were not returned Tuesday. The company has theaters in Falmouth, Auburn, Oxford, Thomaston, Waterville and Wells.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth’s vice president of community health, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that social distancing policies can, especially early on, help “flatten the curve”  to avoid the sharp increases in ill people that can overwhelm health care systems.

“This early phase, in which these strategies can work, is a narrow window because of the exponential growth and a short doubling time, especially when there is already community transmission, as is the case in Portland,” Mills said.

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this story.

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