Naples

Personal watercraft await use off the Causeway in Naples, which has been hit hard economically by pandemic restrictions. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

NAPLES — Owners of seasonal businesses in Naples, already experiencing an economic hit due to the coronavirus, are unsure how they can recover if the governor does not make changes to her plan to re-open Maine’s economy.

The Songo River Queen opened in 1971 and Kent Uicker, above, has owned the business since 2000. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

The months between Memorial Day and Labor Day account for about 70%-80% of many Naples businesses’ year-round revenues, according to Town Manager John Hawley. Most businesses along the Causeway are seasonal and completely dependent on the tourist-heavy summer months.

“The year-round businesses may be able to recover some during the next winter months, (but) the seasonal businesses will be hit the hardest,” said Hawley.

According to the latest estimate by the U.S. Census, Naples’ year-round population is about 4,000. In the summer, that number can rise by about a third, according to Robin Mullins, the executive director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

While some businesses will be able to open in a limited capacity June 1, campgrounds and entertainment/guide services, such as the Songo River Queen II, a boat tour company, have already been impacted by Gov. Janet Mills’ mandate ordering all out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 14 days.

“Normally we open up on Memorial Day weekend. I will not be opening until July 1, and the reason for that is that until July 1, you are limited to crowds of 10 or less. And those numbers don’t work for something that requires a lot of people,” said Kent Uicker, who owns Songo River Queen.

With the restrictions on gatherings of 50 people or more through the end of August, Uicker said he won’t be able to run cruises.

“The only thing I’ll be able to do is a daily public cruise. … Charters are the most profitable and heaviest part of my summer months. If I lose that, I will basically be put out of business by our wonderful governor,” Uicker said.

Loon’s Haven Family Campground will open June 1. Usually, they open in mid-May and close in mid-October, said Billie McNamara the operations manager.

“We’ve already had losses because we have canceled reservations … (We were) fully booked Memorial Day weekend. It’s already tens of thousands of dollars in losses,” McNamara said.

Uicker and McNamara said many of their patrons come from out of state. Both said that in their experience, most visitors don’t stay for more than two or three weeks and with the 14-day quarantine in place, their businesses will be suffering even as more of the state opens up.

For several restaurants in the area, the income from the summer season keeps their businesses going year-round. Josh Enos owns The Galley Restaurant and Pub in Naples and Worth the Wait BBQ, a food truck in Bridgton. He said that at this point, they’re “just trying to keep the doors open.”

“We’re really just hoping that come August, we can open for real … and have a big fall and winter and our local following will come in,” he said.

Enos said that the business they get July through September “basically pays the bills in the winter months.”

“We’re gunning it (and) we’re just kind of waiting,” said manager Pam Ebling of Gary’s Old Town Tavern.

Marie Kushner, owner of Marie’s Kitchen, and said that even though her restaurant is open year-round, more than three quarters of its  revenues come from the summer months. A large portion of her business is a catering service that is typically in high demand in the summer, but with the capacity limits, she’s already losing contracts, she said.

“To survive and not be a bar, I really rely on my catering and that has been taken away from me,” she said.

“It’s bleak.”

Kushner opened Marie’s Kitchen in 2016 and said the prospect of this summer is “heartbreaking.”

“In the restaurant business you struggle so hard in the first few years and I thought, yes, I finally made it, the struggle is coming to an end … and then the pandemic happened so I’m not sure what my outlook is going to be.”

Mullins, from the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, like many of the business owners the Lakes Region Weekly interviewed, is worried that the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors will have a devastating effect for the region.

“Although many out-of-state visitors spend long periods of time here, most come up for long weekends or a week at a time. They may decide to vacation elsewhere if the 14-day quarantine remains in effect for Maine,” Mullins said in an email.

“My hope is that Gov. Mills and the Maine DECD Commissioner, Heather Johnson, will find another way to help keep Maine safe and allow businesses to salvage what they can of the summer tourist season,” she said.

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