The past two weeks we have looked at January through April in our 2020 half-year review. This week we want to look at the transformative and contentious months of May and June and take a peek at the second half of 2020. With these months being more recent, I want to highlight just a few key aspects so we can get to a preview of the rest of 2020.

May 2020
May marks a critical time in closure and re-opening. There were two big pieces to remember from May — primarily, the four-stage re-opening plan, and then the business survey about the plan.

On April 28, the state of Maine released a four-stage plan along with an executive order called the “Stay Safer at Home” plan, which was set to begin on May 1 for Stage 1 businesses. Many questioned why certain industries were in certain stages of the plan, what the health and safety checklists were, and how they were being created. Many business owners reached out to chambers with feedback. Our chamber knew we couldn’t address these concerns with anecdotes alone and that we needed conclusive numbers. The Portland Regional Chamber and I created a survey for business owners on their feelings on the Re-Opening plan and administered it online over five business days. The results are still stunning.

From the 1,467 businesses that responded, we found that the average anticipated economic loss for 2020 is 52.5%. That number is even higher for certain industries, such as lodging businesses, with six in 10 expecting losses over 70%. As of the survey in May, 48.2% of employees have been laid off or furloughed (approximately 17,900 employees) and an additional 6,000 seasonal employees were not hired.

The state also released their Rural Re-Opening Plan later in May allowing industries in certain counties to re-open more quickly while Cumberland, York, Androscoggin and Penobscot businesses were not allowed to re-open certain industries. This led to division in our communities as Harpswell and Brunswick businesses were not allowed to operate like their competitors in Bath, Topsham and the other 12 communities we represent.

May Takeaway: The survey numbers will stick with us all year and give us a benchmark to judge the re-opening plan’s success. Overall though, whether businesses lose 52.5% or can come back to lose only half that much in 2020, this will still be the worst year in a decade for many businesses, and that will linger for years to come. We need to keep that in mind going forward.

June 2020
June saw some return to normalcy as our chamber pulled off the first chamber golf tournament in the state at Brunswick Golf Club, more industries re-opened and weekly guidelines seemed to loosen.

One of the key positives was a program rolled out in May and June through partnership between: Priority Real Estate Group, Bill Dodge Auto Group, Rusty Lantern Markets, The Times Record and our Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber. These businesses launched a five-week advertising page called Community Matters, which highlighted businesses and when they were open. The pages also highlighted community match grants for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Oasis Free Clinics, the Brunswick Teen Center and a lunch program for Tedford Housing and Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program.

The other key piece of June was an online survey our chamber put out about consumer attitudes towards masking and social distancing. Broadly, we found that though 20-25% either don’t believe social distancing and masking are important, whie the other 55-75% (depending on the question) do find it important. One telling statistic is that over 50% of respondents said they have, or would, walk out of business if they don’t feel safe, and over 50% said they wouldn’t return in the future. That statistic alone tells us that social distancing is important to the majority of consumers, and especially those over 60.

June Takeaway: The survey is important, but it’s up to business owners to decide what to do with that information. Some businesses will thrive on the 21% of people who refuse to wear masks, but the majority of businesses need to set policies to attract the 70-80% of consumers who do want social distancing.

The Second Half of 2020
Where are we now? Well, despite the huge economic loss, Maine ranks as one of the lowest states in the country for Covid-19 cases- that’s indisputable. Are there other public health concerns that isolation brings? Absolutely. But in terms of Covid-19, we’re in better shape than most states, so it’s hard to say we have failed in our response to that.

Businesses though are struggling and need your support more than ever. This includes you as a consumer following the guidelines that businesses ask you to follow. If they have a mask policy, and you don’t follow it, you may be pushing their other customers away — our survey said exactly that.

Beyond that, we need to support the businesses we love if we can. Order lunch to go. Make an online order. Staycations are good for your sanity and they help our tourism businesses. They need your patronage and we all need some social distanced fun in the sun.

The Brunswick Downtown Association launched two in-person events last week with Music on the Mall and 2nd Friday Brunswick. Our chamber is making plans for a socially-distanced Chamber After Hours in August, and with our partners we’re planning the November Midcoast Festival of Trees with both a regular plan and a socially-distanced plan.

We all need to make adjustments right now. It’s hard to let go of the things we like, and the way we want things to be. But making some adjustments now- like wearing a mask- can help us in the long run We’re all in this together, so be open to adjustments. Let’s help as many businesses, and their employees, make it to and through the end of the year.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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