Red’s Eats, among other businesses in downtown Wiscasset, reported a summer with fewer tourists due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Co-owner Debbie Gagnon said she’s thankful for the Mainers who helped them stay afloat during a trying summer. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

WISCASSET — Small businesses in downtown Wiscasset are feeling the sting of lost revenue, but aren’t doing as poorly as they anticipated after a tourist season hobbled by COVID-19 restrictions.

Debbie Gagnon, co-owner of Red’s Eats, said this season has been taxing on the landmark destination for lobster rolls, which closed for the season last Saturday. She said revenue has been down from the extra costs of COVID-19-related materials and the smaller flock of out-of-state tourists.

“I feel that all restaurants and all in the hospitality industry are struggling, whether you are seasonal or year-round,” said Gagnon. “With the restrictions, we are all having a very tough year. … I think we all just want to wake up from this nightmare called COVID-19.”

Gagnon declined to estimate how much revenue was lost this summer but said she had to open over a month later than normal, which cut into profits. On top of that, costs such as hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes for guests, masks for employees and guests, and hiring a contractor to build a wider counter to keep patrons a safe distance from workers, ate into her revenue.

Greg Uthoff, co-owner of Birch Home Furnishings and Gifts, called Red’s Eats “a light switch for downtown” because of the increased foot traffic he notices when it opens for the season.

Like Gagnon, Uthoff said business has slipped this year, but declined to give an estimate of revenue lost. He said last summer, anywhere from 80 to 100 people would visit the store daily. This summer, roughly 60 to 80 people visited daily.

“It has been a tough year for everyone, but we’re certainly doing better than we thought we’d be doing,” he said.

Uthoff said he noticed an increase in tourism in July and August, which are usually the store’s busiest months, after Gov. Janet Mills lifted COVID-19 restrictions for several states in the Northeast.

Chip Davison, chairman of the Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce, said the amount of leaf peepers is comparable to years past, which helped businesses make up for the damage COVID-19 caused in the spring.

“On average, I’d estimate businesses are down about 40% this year at best,” he said. “We’re doing about 60% of the business we’d do in a normal year, but we won’t know for sure until the end of the year.”

Maine’s COVID-19 mandate requires out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 14 days after entering Maine or test negative for COVID-19 no longer than 72 hours prior to entering the state. Vermont and New Hampshire were exempted from this mandate effective June 26, as they had similarly low COVID-19 cases. Visitors from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey were exempted from the travel mandate as of July 3, then Massachusetts followed effective Sept. 23.

Traffic counts from the Maine Department of Transportation reflect this increase.

According to Paul Merrill, Maine DOT, traffic on Route 1 in Wiscasset was down by over 32,000 cars weekly, a 24% decrease, in the first week of June compared to that time last year. In the first week of July this year, traffic was down by 18%, or over 24,000 cars weekly, compared to last year.

Statewide traffic dropped by about 50% in late March and early April, Merrill said. Since then, it has slowly rebounded, but statewide vehicle-miles traveled remain down between 5% and 10% compared to last year. This week, statewide traffic is down 5.9% when compared to the same week in 2019.

Davison said local businesses reported more patrons from Maine than they typically see, which helped many stay afloat when out-of-state were barred.

“By July, August and September, businesses had a nice uptick in tourists from out of state,” said Davison. “Massachusetts was a big player to be missing and they were the last ones to be given access to the state and that really hurt our businesses. Once the Massachusetts restriction was lifted, there was a resurgence of people who came to enjoy Wiscasset.”

Kasey McNamara, owner of In The Clover boutique on Route 1, said she saw more people from Maine and New England than she expected.

“We typically see people from the West Coast or Texas, but I didn’t see anyone from the West Coast this summer, it was really only New Englanders,” she said.

“The first six months were kind of a wash because we had to be closed for two months then things really didn’t start happening until mid-June,” said McNamara. “I lowered my expectation and thought this was going to be a terrible year, but it hasn’t been. It has been a good year, and we’re working hard to try to keep that momentum going.”

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