BATH — Monday marked the first day since the COVID-19 lockdown started that restaurants in Sagadahoc County could welcome dine-in customers, as long as physical distancing and other safety practices could be observed. While some restaurants in Bath jumped at the chance, others hung back, choosing instead to stick with curbside pickup.

On May 8, Gov. Janet Mills announced an accelerated reopening of retail stores and restaurants in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties, where health officials have recorded fewer cases. Under the new guidelines, restaurants in Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties could welcome dine-in customers beginning Monday. Each establishment is expected to follow a five-page state guidebook that outlines required sanitation and social distancing practices.

Michael Quigg, owner of Beale Street Barbeque in Bath, said he doesn’t plan on opening the restaurant’s dining room until later in the summer because the restaurant’s takeout service has been enough. He said despite the pandemic, revenue is about where it was at this time last year.

“We’re fortunate to be doing well enough with what we’re doing now,” said Quigg. “If we were struggling to stay alive with curbside pickup only, we may be forced to take that risk and open.

“Just because we can open doesn’t mean we need to,” he added. “I think there are people who are more comfortable not eating in our dining room with 20 other people from who knows where who are eating without face masks.”

He said when he does open the dining room, it will only have four or five tables compared to the space’s usual 15 to keep customers safe and comfortable.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, Sagadahoc County has seen 27 cases of COVID-19, 16 of which have recovered. Statewide, 1,741 people have been diagnosed with the disease and 73 Mainers have died.

Around the corner, J.R. Maxwell on Front Street is preparing to welcome a reduced number of patrons back into its dining room beginning Wednesday.

Ed Rogers, owner of J.R. Maxwell, said certain areas of the restaurant will remain closed, but he estimates he’ll be able to welcome about 30 diners on the upper floor of the restaurant and another 50 to 60 people downstairs. This will be about one-third of the restaurant’s normal capacity, and all diners will be spread out to allow for social distancing.

Rogers said he has been offering curbside pickup, but the business has been operating about 40% below May of last year.

“We don’t want to be shut down any longer than necessary,” said Rogers. “This has been awful.”

Rogers said he wants to open in time for tourist season, should tourists be allowed in the state, because the restaurant typically sees a 25% boost in business during the summer.

Down the street, Cafe Creme started allowing patrons inside the small coffee shop, but every table and chair has been removed, forcing people to enter, get their coffee at the counter, and leave.

“Being able to let people in the door feels like a tiny baby step toward normalcy,” said owner Tonnie Schultz. “We’re happy to welcome people in again, but the cafe looks really sad like this.”

Schultz said creating a space for community members to gather and linger was always just as important to her, so seeing the space empty has been difficult, but she hopes allowing people inside will boost revenue.

Schultz said she lost over $20,000 last month in sales compared to April of last year.

“We’re losing money like crazy because the amount of business has so heavily decreased,” said Schultz. “My business model is based upon a certain level of volume that we’re not even close to at this point.”

In West Bath, Witch Spring Hill Ice Cream opened last weekend after installing additional sanitary measures including plexiglass barriers between customers and staff and extra hand sanitizer dispensers.

Despite adhering to the necessary health and safety precautions, owner Maureen Cressey said she considers herself lucky to operate a seasonal, takeout business, which meant she wasn’t affected when Mills forced eateries to close their dining rooms in March.

“We lucked out because we’re takeout anyway,” said owner Maureen Cressey. “It’d be nice if we didn’t have to have the plexiglass at our counter, but I’ll do whatever I need to keep my staff and customers safe.”

With the additional safety measures in place, Cressey said her opening weekend sales were within a few hundred dollars of her opening weekend sales last year.

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