Cafe Creme in Bath is one of many small businesses forced by the coronavirus pandemic to either limit operations or shut down. Courtesy Cas Tirrell

BRUNSWICK — With the coronavirus pandemic forcing many businesses across the country to close or adapt to limited operations – sometimes having a crushing result on revenues – morale is certainly down among business owners, according to Debora King.

“But they recognize the need to do what they’re doing” in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 – the respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus – the Brunswick Downtown Association executive director said. “… I don’t think anyone feels like they’re being targeted so much, as recognizing that they’re all going to be part of the solution to get through this.”

The association has posted a listing at brunswickdowntown.org/brunswick-business-updates of food pick-up and take-out locations, closures, and other information on a wide spectrum of businesses. The Main Street Bath organization has posted a similar list on its Facebook page.

The Brunswick Town Council on Monday took further measures, banning customers from going inside stores for food pickups. Transfers of food are still allowed, but either outside the establishment, or through an open window or doorway.

Coastal Enterprises Inc. has posted a list of resources – ceimaine.org/covid-19-resources-for-businesses – to be accessed during these tough times.

Among those are the U.S. Small Business Association’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which are available in Maine to help businesses overcome temporary revenue losses caused by the pandemic. Applications can be obtained at sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.

Most Maine Street retailers have already closed shop, while many dine-in establishments had either closed temporarily or switched to take-out services, King said.

“Some folks are staying open … many feel that they have already been abiding by all of the sanitation requirements simply by running a food service business, but they have certainly upped their game,” King said. “Folks recognize that people need to be together. That sort of goes against social distancing, but people need to stay connected. It’s that balance that people are trying to find, while surviving.”

Peter Robbins, who owns Bohemian Coffee House, was among Maine businesses impacted by Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order last week that required all restaurants and bars across the state to close to dine-in customers for two weeks until midnight Tuesday, March 31. Take-out, delivery, and drive-thru services may continue.

Peter Robbins, owner of Bohemian Coffee House in Brunswick, said reducing operations from dine-in to take-out has whittled profits down to about a quarter of what they normally are this time of year. Contributed

“We’d sanitize the doorknobs once a day because it’s flu season, and now we’re doing it all the time,” Robbins said. “… We’ve cleaned the place within an inch of its life. … Somebody comes in, we spray the counter when they leave.”

Reducing operations from dine-in to take-out has whittled profits down to about a quarter of what they normally are this time of year, he said. Still, “we don’t have a choice but to be open,” he added. “… We all have bills to pay; I can’t not pay my guys.”

Robbins saves money throughout the summer to get through the leaner winter, but now it’s spring, and all that money is gone, he said.

“We’re making almost enough to cover payroll,” Robbins said. Being in “storm mode,” he’s had to prioritize ingredient purchases. “We’re not doing well, but we’re OK.”

Tonnie Schultz, owner of Cafe Creme in Bath, has also chosen to remain open as a take-out operation. “While business has slowed dramatically, I am keeping my staff employed and my business running, at least for as long as I can,” she wrote on her business’s Facebook page.

While most have been appreciative that they can either stop in or get their food curbside, and at least retain social interaction from a distance, one person did enter the business to criticize staff for staying open, she said.

“Please understand that my staff is with me at work because they want to work, and they take pride in what they do,” Schultz wrote. “… Harassing people who are simply trying to make a living is wrong and mean-spirited.”

“We are all in this together, doing our best day by day,” she added. “Let’s not turn on each other, but support each other in our endeavors to do what we feel is the right thing.”

Natasha Baise, general manager of Bath’s Starlight Cafe, chose to close the operation until the pandemic is over. Business had slowed in the weeks leading up to that closure, and word in the media that it was unsafe to enter restaurants didn’t help, she said.

“It cost more money unfortunately to keep the place running, with propane, electricity, paying staff, food costs,” Baise said. “We were throwing away a lot of food.”

Since the business still has bills, she invited people via Starlight’s Facebook page to buy $25-$75 gift certificates to use when doors reopen. She’s received seven requests so far.

Dan Catlin is owner of Brunswick’s Tontine Mall, where half of the dozen businesses are open on a limited basis; others have closed until further notice.

“There’s no question it’s going to be a serious impact on every small business; Maine Street’s going to be greatly affected,” he said.

Catlin is working with tenants having difficulty with rent on “a case-by-case basis,” he said. “Our thought process is, we’re going to keep everybody in business.”

The hardships caused by the pandemic “will secure long-term relationships between banks, landlords and tenants,” Catlin said. “At the end of the day, we all need to be standing. … We’re all in the same rowboat.”

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