Downtown Bath businesses are bouncing back, buoyed by an increase in summer tourists and easing state coronavirus restrictions.

Gov. Janet Mills’ state of civil emergency — and subsequent public health mandates — ended on June 30. The state of civil emergency was enacted on March 15, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic reaching Maine. The state of civil emergency allowed the governor to impose mandates on things like masking and gathering sizes. All COVID-19 restrictions enacted by the state have been lifted, but federal masking requirements in airports and on public transportation remain in effect.

Now You’re Cooking Marketing Director Heather Fear said the kitchen supply store on Front Street, “took off” during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic last summer “because people were home cooking and we were supplying them with what they needed.”

Fear said business has continued to swell as the state’s COVID-19 vaccination rate increased, cases declined and pandemic-induced restrictions ended.

“We’re having one of our best summers,” said Fear. “We’ve seen a huge uptick in visitors and locals recently because I think people are so hungry for activity and seeing old friends, and they’re looking for opportunities to engage with the places they love in Bath.”

Fear said lifting the store’s capacity restrictions contributed to an increase in sales because locals can now bring in visiting family and friends and tourists can browse in groups.

“In June of last year, we could reopen but only to a few people,” said Fear. “It was nice to have people in the store, but hard because we had to restrict people in the summer. People were mindful that others were waiting outside, so they weren’t browsing. They’d come in, get only what they needed, then leave.”

Stores weren’t the only businesses forced to offer only curbside pickup or heavily restrict the number of people who could enter.

Down Centre Street, Southgate Family Restaurant co-owner Karl Schaumeurg closed his restaurant for about two months last summer when his already small seating capacity shrank.

“We weren’t making enough money to make ends meet,” said Schaumeurg. “We only have a capacity of 32 to begin with, so to spread them six feet apart, we could only seat 24.”

After the restaurant opened again in August 2020, Schaumeurg said it was kept afloat by local customers and a noticeably smaller flock of tourists, but business was still 60-70% below normal.

“Now, we’re back up to about 15% less than normal business,” said Schaumeurg. “Comparatively, this summer is very good. As a business owner, it’s extremely exciting and relieving.”

While Schaumeurg’s restaurant climbs back to normalcy, Tom Boenitz, co-owner of Pamela’s World on Front Street, said his jewelry store is seeing sales leapfrog pre-pandemic levels.

“Our June sales this year doubled compared to June 2019 and July is going at the same pace,” said Boenitz. “This summer has been good; there are more cruise ships coming up the river and we’re seeing more foot traffic from them.”

Up Front Street, Mockingbird Bookshop Owner Terri Schurz noted “so far, July 2021 is higher sales wise, than July 2020.”

Last summer, Schurz said could have up to five customers in the store at a time due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year, the shop was able to shed its capacity limit, “so I would say we get close to double the amount of foot traffic.”

“It feels like there are certainly more visitors in town, and there is a general sense of relief and gladness that things are returning to normal,” said Schurz. “Business has improved, which is important for the bottom line, but also because we want to be able to provide a sense of place to Bath residents, the surrounding area, and all who visit. It’s wonderful to hear the bustle of groups of shoppers as they sit and read to their kids, ask each other which books they’ve read and loved, and look for recommendations. There isn’t such a feeling of trepidation or a veil of fear hovering around.”

Although she described 2020 as “terribly difficult,” Schurz said she was encouraged by locals who made an effort to shop locally during the pandemic.

“Reading was something that people could keep doing in spite of all the things we had to stop doing,” said Schurz. “It was a safe activity and a point of connection. I never felt in danger of closing due to a lack of business, and I’m eternally grateful to Bath for that.”

As of Friday, 91% of Bath residents had received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard.

Within Sagadahoc County, nearly 63% of the total population received the final dose of the vaccine as of Sunday. According to state data, just under 60% of Maine residents have been fully vaccinated.

In Sagadahoc County, 1,477 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 2020 and 11 have died, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statewide, 69,474 Mainers have tested positive and 882 have died as of Sunday, according to the Maine CDC.

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