Jon DiCentes, senior route driver for Casco Bay Food and Beverage, prepares to load snacks and drinks into vending machines at an office building in the Old Port on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

We have all used more soap and hand sanitizer over the past five months than in the previous five years, but has that focus on cleanliness spilled over into our wardrobe?

Certainly not when it comes to business attire.

Chris Beaulieu has seen the dry cleaning portion of his Soap Bubble Laundromat in Portland’s West End dry up since the coronavirus pandemic began.

“Obviously, it’s been affected,” said Beaulieu, who also owns a similar establishment in Bangor. “Why dry clean a two-piece suit when you’re sitting in your living room with your slippers on?”

The pandemic prompted Gov. Janet Mills to issue a stay-at-home order back in March, forcing many businesses either to close or to have employees work from home. Many of those folks have yet to return to the office, creating a trickle-down effect on companies that provide services to office workers.

Break room vending machines require less, if any, refilling. Waste baskets don’t need to be emptied because nobody’s adding trash. The toner in the copying machine isn’t going to run out anytime soon.


“Our full-service side of the house is way down,” Beaulieu said, “and probably will continue to be until things return to normal, whenever that happens.”

In addition to providing self-service machines, the Soap Bubble will clean, dry and fold laundry. There’s also a tailoring component to the business, but Beaulieu said “we haven’t processed one item since March 17.”

Jon DiCentes loads snacks into a vending machine in an office building in the Old Port on Tuesday. Because so many offices are closed, Casco Bay Food and Beverage’s revenue decreased by 55 percent and it had to furlough 40 percent of its workforce. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

He said there’s been a slight uptick in wash-and-fold services, mainly from out-of-town visitors. Restaurants and lodging establishments that have cleaned linens with the Soap Bubble are not as busy, and Beaulieu estimates his dry-cleaning business is down 60 percent from normal.

He said not everyone is staying home. There are still people who have to dress up when they go in to work. And the self-service portion is not far from what it was.

“We’re still in business,” he said. “When you think about basic needs, people can easily cut out restaurants or vacations, but everyone needs food, shelter and clean clothes.”

Casco Bay Food and Beverage operates nearly 4,000 vending machines in Maine, serving all but two of the state’s 16 counties. A lot of those machines are empty. Co-owner Niki Morton said her clients range from standard offices to call centers, manufacturing plants and schools.


“In some locations, we’ve reduced the amount of products and services,” she said. “In others, we’ve gone in and emptied all of our machines because the product does expire. For example, we cleaned out all the colleges when they sent the students home.”

In manufacturing plants and other businesses that have maintained an on-site workforce, Casco Bay continues to provide snacks, sandwiches and beverages. Protocols have changed, of course, with more sanitizing and protective equipment.

Morton said because so many clients have shut down, revenue decreased by 55 percent and Casco Bay was forced to furlough 40 percent of its workforce. Back in the spring, Casco Bay used its large commercial kitchen in Bangor to produce box lunches; for a few months, that proved fairly popular.

Jon DiCentes, senior route driver for Casco Bay Food and Beverage, reloads bottled water into a vending machine at Casco Bay Lines on Tuesday. At businesses that have maintained an on-site workforce, Casco Bay continues to provide snacks, sandwiches and beverages – with more sanitizing and protective equipment.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It definitely waned,” she said. “But then more businesses are slowly starting to come back to work, so it has balanced off.”

Headquartered in Lewiston, Casco Bay has branches in Portland and Bangor and maintains a fleet of roughly 60 delivery trucks.

“We’re fortunate in Maine that we weren’t hurt as hard as some of our vending counterparts in the Boston area,” Morton said. “They were hit pretty hard.”


Ryan Beaulieu, no relation to Chris, is production manager of UniFirst, an industrial laundry company in Portland that services schools, hospitals, hotels and automotive shops. The company also distributes products such as soaps, sanitizers, paper towels and toilet tissue.

Since the pandemic began, UniFirst added to its product line and now offers disposable and reusable face masks and disinfectant wipes.

In April, Ryan Beaulieu said he saw a 30 percent reduction in business. Upticks in the medical field, particularly with dental offices requesting protective equipment, have helped restore some of those losses.

“Every week gets a little bit better,” he said of UniFirst’s outlook. “We’re not where we used to be, and I don’t foresee that we’re going to be. I think we’re going to have to grow like every other business that’s had to make adjustments. Our mentality is to work with our customers as best we can and to be an advocate for them.”

A number of workers laid off in the spring have returned. Beaulieu said business is strong enough that UniFirst is looking to add to its current workforce of about 80 employees.

Cale Grant, owner of Two Guys Cleaning, works at an office building in South Portland. He said he lost some clients that haven’t reopened, but picked up others that requested enhanced cleaning and sanitizing because of the pandemic.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Cale Grant, who owns South Portland-based Two Guys Cleaning, said the pandemic has prompted a shift in his work schedule. In normal times, he would have to wait until evening to clean most office buildings. Now, he’s finding more daytime work.

“The family likes it,” he said.

Grant said he lost some clients who haven’t reopened, but picked up others who requested enhanced cleaning and sanitizing because of the pandemic.

“I find a lot of people who were doing it themselves or had never had a cleaning service calling me more and more,” he said. “There’s more opportunities because of the fact that there’s a pandemic, but I don’t approach it any differently. I’m here to make a living, not to overcharge.”

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