Palace Playland President Paul Golder said his family is looking at opening the Old Orchard Beach landmark this season, perhaps when the limits on gatherings increases to 50. Tammy Wells Photo

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Will one of Maine’s most popular summer tourism spots have a season? When will it start? Is there any flexibility within Gov. Janet Mills’ April 28 executive order that lays out a four-phase path to reopening Maine’s economy?

Some might say there were signs of a season, in a small way, on May 2 in Old Orchard Beach, when Pier Fries and some other eateries opened their take-out windows, after getting the all-clear from the town.

But at present, there are more businesses shuttered than are open. Dine-in restaurants, hotels, retail shops, and amusements like the famed Palace Playland, a fixture at Old Orchard Beach for decades, are all currently closed.

Palace Playland President Paul Golder said he is consulting with the town and the state to determine next steps.

“We’re looking at potentially doing some sort of limited opening if they allow us to have gatherings of 50 people,” said Golder. “Everything will depend on information coming out from the Governor’s office.”

Fred Kennedy, who owns Alouette Beach Resort in Old Orchard Beach, along with two other hotels, said uncertainty in state policy is prompting reservation cancellations, and he worries that longtime visitors won’t return next year. Tammy Wells Photo

He said timing may present another issue. Palace Playland employs J1 international cultural exchange students, and usually, by now, some would be on site, helping prepare for the season. He has workers scheduled for June 15, but the worldwide pandemic may play a role in  their arrival.

“If it gets to the point where we don’t know if they coming, we’d have to look at our ability to run the park,” Golder said.

Dine-in restaurants are tentatively allowed to open in Stage 2, on June 1. Lodging and campgrounds can open then too, for Maine residents and those from out-of-state who have met a 14-day quarantine, and gatherings of 50 or fewer would be allowed. Stage 3, which begins in July and August, retains the 14-day quarantine for those from outside Maine, and allows bars, charter boats and boat excursions to open. Stage 4, with a date to be determined, contemplates lifting restrictions and allowing businesses to open, with safety precautions.

In an April 28 news release, Mills said the stages are a framework for planning, that innovations or expanded testing could accelerate the pace — and that a surge in COVID-19 could result in significant adjustments to the plan and a return to more restrictions.

Late last week, Maine Republican leaders asked for the Legislature to reconvene, and for a vote to remove Mills’ emergency powers.

Two hoteliers, Fred Kennedy, who owns the Alouette Beach Resort, Beach Walk Ocean Front Inn and Neptune Beach Hotel and Suites — about 130 units in all, and Joel Ranger, who purchased White Cap Village in 2017, wonder who from outside Maine will spend 14 days in isolation in the state before they can start their vacation.

“Nobody stays for 14 days, so basically it’s a prohibition,” for those outside Maine, said Kennedy.

April 30 wasn’t one of the sunniest days in Old Orchard Beach, but with retailers closed and lodging shuttered, it looked more like early March than the last day of April. Tammy Wells Photo

At the peak of the summer, he employs about 90 people, Kennedy estimated. Currently, he has a dozen workers.

“There’s been a rash of cancellations,” as a result of the governor’s phased-in plan,” said Kennedy. “The negativity (in news releases) and the uncertainty in the policy are devastating the season for us.”

Ranger said he counted five Maine lodgers at White Cap Village last year and agreed the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors won’t work.

“A lot of people cancelled as soon as they heard it,” he said. Since March 16, Ranger said he’s lost 40 percent of his summer reservations and repaid deposits. “To me, what she’s doing is economic suicide for Maine,” Ranger said about Mills.

Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kim Howard said the Chamber has fielded calls from people from other states, wondering if the beach is open (it is), whether they can drive up, and the like.

Members, she said, are trying to wrap their heads around the quarantine concern, and the Chamber is pushing out information to them as quickly as it arrives.

“Some businesses are in talks with the Department of Economic and Community Development and are looking for further clarification,” said Howard.

Rep. Lori Gramlich, D- Old Orchard Beach said she’s heard from businesses and plans to respond.

“I want to be responsive in a way that makes sense,” said Gramlich, who owned a restaurant with her husband before being elected to the Legislature, but now leases the property to another.

“It’s not lost on me in our town particularly, that tourism is our major economic driver,” said Gramlich. “Legislators didn’t get a heads-up on the executive order, we heard it on the news like everyone else.”

“I do know when we are able to elevate issues, we have seen some policy changes,” Gramlich said, citing increased state staffing to deal with unemployment issues and increased hours people can call for unemployment as examples.

Kennedy said tourism is a sensitive business, and if a longstanding relationship where guests have been vacationing for years is interrupted, they may not return again.

He said he’s talked to others in the lodging industry.

“We want to be good stewards and good citizens and be part of the solution,” he said. “I think perhaps our government has lost sight of balance and forgotten us or perhaps they don’t realize how sensitive our business is.”

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