Ginger Cote in a booth at Big Babe’s Tavern in South Portland. Aimsel Ponti / Portland Press Herald

SOUTH PORTLAND — The building where Big Babe’s restaurant and music venue opened in January is up for sale, but if there’s one thing owner Ginger Cote wants the world to know, it’s that “the building is for sale, not the business.”

The popular Knightville business closed its doors at 60 Ocean St. in March, along with most other restaurants and music venues, but while some are struggling to remain open in some fashion, Big Babe’s remains closed. Cote maintained that if it weren’t for the pandemic, Big Babe’s would still be going strong.

“It’s absolutely all COVID,” she said. “It was very successful pre-COVID.”

City Manager Scott Morelli called the closure “disappointing.” He said he was certain other local restaurants are suffering and even closing, but the city cannot maintain accurate data, as the businesses are under no obligation to report a closure to the city.

“It’s not just Big Babe’s for sure,” he said.

Data suggests a lack of tourism that may continue to hamper the restaurant industry. According to Maine Revenue Services, a branch of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, lodging revenues statewide in April 2020 were down 82% compared to April 2019 and in May the figure was down 79%.

According to the National Restaurant Association, a survey in May showed 75% of restaurant operators said it was unlikely their restaurants would be profitable within the next six months.

“Our research finds that 3% of restaurants have closed permanently since the start of the pandemic shutdown, but the full scope of closures won’t be known until government statistics are released months from now,” said Vanessa Sink, the association’s director of media relations. “The association projects the final number will be in the tens of thousands.”

Overall, the association estimates the foodservice industry nationwide has lost $145 billion in revenue from March to June, with more than $116 billion of that at eating and drinking establishments.

The building was the longtime site of the Griffin Club, which opened in 1973 and attracted sports figures in its heyday. Cote bought the property in 2017, intending for it to become a popular local eatery and music venue, with plans for jam sessions, Latin dance parties, and swing dancing. When it opened, Cote told The Forecaster she wanted Big Babe’s to “become a cozy neighborhood bar where people come for good music and good food.”

Two months later, the pandemic forced Big Babe’s to close and the property is now listed with Excellence Realty for $3.1 million. The liquor and special amusement licenses for Big Babe’s will technically remain active until January 2021.

But this week Cote remained optimistic. She said she wasn’t sure yet how the business would go on and it was unlikely to stay in the same location, regardless of who the new building owner is, but she’s committed to bringing it back once the pandemic danger and fear passes.

“It will reopen for sure,” she said.

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