Dawn Baise, owner of the Starlight Cafe in Bath, announced the restaurant’s permanent closure on Facebook May 2. The cafe, located on Lambard Street around the corner from city hall, was a beloved breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Bath for 23 years. Photo courtesy of Dawn Baise

BATH — The Starlight Café, a beloved breakfast and lunch spot in downtown Bath, is closing its doors after 23 years.

Dawn Baise, who has owned the restaurant for the past three years, said she decided to announce the closure on May 2 after seeing sales plummet in March, then stop altogether in April. The closure is the first known closure due to COVID-19 in downtown Bath.

“We were OK financially for the most part before coronavirus, but then sales started declining in March,” said Baise. “We usually make most of our money from the tourists in the summer, but this summer doesn’t look promising at all. I just saw the end coming.”

After Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order on March 18 that forced closed restaurants to close their dining rooms, Baise decided to shut down completely rather than trying to change the business model to offer takeout or curbside pickup.

“One of my employees has a compromised immune system, so I didn’t want to put him, myself or anyone else in danger,” she said. “I never offered takeout because nobody wants breakfast takeout.”

Baise said she applied for emergency funding through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but wasn’t approved before the money for that program ran out. She applied a second time but “never heard back.”

“When federal relief programs started coming out, small businesses should’ve been at the top of the list,” said Baise. “Self-employed people should’ve gotten more support from the government and small businesses should have more relief.”

Last month Bath created a loan program aimed at providing immediate financial relief to small local businesses losing revenue in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The Economic Relief Bridge Program provides a $7,500 maximum interest-free loan, which may be forgiven as long as the funds are used to cover payroll, mortgage interest, rent and utility costs; and employee and compensation levels are maintained or are returned to levels as of Feb. 29, 2020, on or before April 15, 2021.

Baise said the $7,500 wouldn’t be enough to save the restaurant. She also would’ve needed to bring her employees back, but said she didn’t see the purpose of that if there are no customers to work for.

“If I bring everyone back and pay them, what happens after that?” she said. “If we don’t have customers, we have no reason to be open.”

Marc Meyers, Bath’s assistant city manager said 40 small businesses have applied for the loan program, 38 of which were approved.

“People want to take advantage of this opportunity and do what they can to make sure it’s forgiven,” said Meyers. “From the city’s perspective, we didn’t put the forgiveness aspect in there as a challenge for small business owners, but during these times, I can appreciate the frustration business owners have.”

Meyers said seeing the Starlight Cafe close is disheartening because “these are our neighbors and friends operating these businesses, which makes the issue more personal.”

After she made the decision to close for good, Baise donated all the food in the restaurant to the Bath Area Food Bank, which continues to distribute hundreds of bags of food to families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If anything good can come out of this, it’s that they can have some food to feed families that need it,” said Baise. “Even if people can give one can of food or a dollar, it’ll help.”

Starlight Cafe isn’t the only local restaurant closing as a result of COVID-19.

On Thursday, Benchwarmers Sports Pub on Maine Street in Brunswick announced it was closing due to “restrictions in place due to COVID-19,” the business announced.

Benchwarmers hasn’t been able to serve customers since March 18, according to its Facebook. The business noted that “no amount of curbside or take-out or limited inside seating” would sustain them, writing: “Unfortunately, I know we’re not alone in this struggle, and I shudder to think about the other small businesses in town that will inevitably be facing a similar reality.”

 

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