Blueberries chef Terrance Spencer serves up a to-go Reuben Wednesday at the Topsham restaurant. Contributed photo

TOPSHAM — Closed since March to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Topsham restaurants are slowly letting customers back inside to dine.

Lisa Osgood owns the Kopper Kettle Restaurant on Second Street, which reopened May 20 for indoor dining. She can only seat about 25 customers at a time while keeping tables 6 feet apart, a requirement under the reopening guidelines.

Osgood estimates sales are down 70%.

“If the social distancing continues through the summer, it’s very likely we won’t survive, along with many small businesses in town and the state,” she said.

Gov. Janet Mills decided early this month to allow restaurants in several counties, including Sagadahoc, to open to limited indoor dining starting May 18. The state delayed the reopening of dine-in services in York, Cumberland and Androscoggin counties after reporting an increase in COVID-19 cases in those counties.

As of Thursday, there have been 1,951 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine but only 30 cases in Sagadahoc County, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Restaurants like the Fairground Cafe in the Topsham Fair Mall have large dining rooms that can fit 50 people while adhering to the physical distancing requirements. Owner Perry Leavitt said he does a big breakfast business but is now drawing a strong dinner crowd. That may be because not many restaurants are open for dining and those that are can’t operate at full capacity, he said.

Drew Victory, who owns the restaurant Blueberries, said he decided to offer to-go meals only, despite Mill’s decision to accelerate restaurant openings in Sagadahoc County. He hopes to offer some outside dining options but no inside dining.

“I’m not sure where we’re at in terms of the pandemic and what are going to be the middle-term effects,” Victory said. “I’m going to make the decision based on what I feel is safe for my staff and clientele.”

Restaurants have to follow extra safety precautions, and Victory said he didn’t want to argue with customers about wearing masks or his staff wearing extra protective equipment constantly sanitizing tables between customers.

“It doesn’t seem conducive to a nice relaxing breakfast, so I’d rather do to-go,” he said. “You can take food wherever you want.”

Leavitt also plans to put some tables outside Fairground Cafe for customers who don’t want to eat inside yet.

“It’s been a little slower than I’d hoped but I’m getting a lot of my customers back,” Leavitt said.

He estimated sales are down 50%, but they were down about 90% when he could only offer take-out.

The National Restaurant Association announced in early May that nearly 6 million restaurant jobs had been lost as of mid-April and that the food service industry could lose more than $50 billion in sales that month. Additionally, nearly 7.5 million small businesses may be at risk of closing permanently over the coming five months, Main Street America reported in early April.

“It’s just a very difficult environment and hopefully everybody kind of understands that small businesses are struggling right now,” Leavitt said. “As much as they can support us, we appreciate that.”

The Kopper Kettle Restaurant in Topsham opened to inside dining May 20 but social distancing requirements limit the 70-seat dining area to 25 customers. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

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