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Businesses turn out to buoy support for all cruise ships

By Stephen Betts | May 15, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts Gordon McAleer of Bixby & Co., maker of artisan chocolates in Rockland, was one of a series of business owners voicing support at the May 14 Rockland City Council meeting for cruise ship visits.

Rockland — Rockland business owners turned out en masse Monday night, May 14, to voice their support for cruise ships, large and small, in an effort to stave off a moratorium on the passenger vessels.

For the second week in a row, the concept of a moratorium on cruise ships dominated the Rockland City Council meeting, even though the council is not proposing such an action.

Last week, a group presented a petition signed by 80 Rockland residents and a total of 752 people from across the world for the council to enact regulations to deal with what they call "mega" cruise ships. That group said the mega-cruise ships, which carry more than 250 passengers, were a threat to the character and environment of Rockland.

But at Monday's council meeting, business owners turned out to say that the handful of visits from large cruise ships each year help make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful year.

Gordon McAleer of Bixby & Co., maker of artisan chocolates in Rockland, was one of a series of business owners voicing support for cruise ship visits. Bixby created a manufacturing and retail business on Tillson Avenue in a former ice house.

"Our experience with the visiting cruise ship passengers has been extremely positive," McAleer said.

He said when the cruise ships arrive in Rockland, the business sees a spike in retail sales.

"The cruise ship passengers drive an increase of the tourism economy for Rockland, and the Rockland community should warmly welcome them," he said.

The spending infuses many new dollars to boost the local economy and creates jobs and general economic good, he said.

"The cruise ships will go elsewhere if Rockland takes a narrow, 'no growth' and 'not in my backyard' position. This would be a tragic opportunity lost, with the added negative view that Rockland is anti-business and anti-economic growth," McAleer said.

Connie Sawyer of Seagull Cottage store on Main Street said cruise ship visitors are needed for her business. She said business from local residents alone is not enough to keep her business operating.

"If I no longer have the passengers from these cruise ships and tourists coming into my shop, I will be out of business," Sawyer said.

She said her business triples when the cruise ships arrive and she offers more hours to her employees.

She said these passengers return to Rockland and stay longer after their initial visits on cruise ships.

Ann Hoppe of the Puffin's Nest store on Main Street said when the cruise ships are in port, her business triples. She said the few times a year that the large cruise ships arrive in Rockland are not much out of 365 days.

Sierra Dietz of the Grasshopper Shop on Main Street said her business increases from 50 to 259 percent when the cruise ships are in town. She said the added income goes to employees and for charitable giving by the business.

She said the cruise ship passengers' spending offers indirect benefits to other businesses.

"They don't just buy T-shirts and souvenirs," Dietz said, noting they visit museums and galleries and take in what Rockland has to offer.

Elizabeth Burrell of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce said a couple from Oregon who visited Rockland last year aboard a cruise ship contacted the chamber and will be returning this year after attending their granddaughter's wedding in Boston.

She said fewer passengers arrive on the large cruise ships than the number of people who come when the Lobster Festival is going on.

She said the most common question asked by visitors when they get onshore is where they can get lobsters. She said restaurants benefit from the cruise ships' arrival. Burrell said two different lobster restaurants stayed open three weeks longer than they otherwise would have to take advantage of passengers from the cruise ships last fall.

Burrell said she, too, does not want Rocklnad to become another Bar Harbor, but that is not likely, because there is no national park and Rockland is not a port of entry for foreign vessels.

Statistics from the chamber show that 75 percent of cruise ship visitors remain in Rockland for the day, while the other quarter go to other sites, such as Camden.

David Troup of the Farnsworth Art Museum said the arrival of the cruise ships offers not only an economic boost, but a global marketing boost, as passengers praise Rockland on social media.

John Jeffers from the Rockland Economic Development Advisory Committee pointed out that the City Council voted in March to create a committee to update the harbor management plan, which will look at the issue of cruise ships.

Jeffers said he supports visits of cruise ships to Rockland, including the large ones, but that it was important to address potential problems. He said the five most common questions asked by those visitors were how far away was the downtown, how do they get to the Farnsworth, where can they get a lobster dinner or lobster roll, what is the best way to get to the Breakwater Lighthouse and where are the art galleries.

He said not a single person asked where to get a T-shirt, beach towel, snow globe or refrigerator magnet.

Tom Peaco, executive director of the chamber, said he could not see how the council could seriously consider taking action on a moratorium based on a petition signed overwhelmingly by people from outside Rockland.

"This moratorium is a solution looking for a problem," Peaco said.

Larry Reed of the Pearl Restaurant said he sees an increase of 500 to 800 percent in business when the cruise ships arrive. He purchases lobsters, which benefits other people in the community. Reed said.

There were a few voices of opposition to cruise ships at the meeting, including Ruth Starr, general manager of 250 Main Hotel. She said a moratorium was not a ban.

Louise MacLellan-Ruf, chair of the Harbor Management Commission asked why the council continually delays taking action on cruise ship regulations. She said the creation of the committee would result in no action for a year or two. She said a November referendum would still be a delay.

"What are the possible conflicts of interest on the council that are possibly delaying responsible tourism?" MacLellan-Ruf asked.

MacLellan-Ruf, who is also a former mayor, listed four councilors whom she asked to listen to the public. She did not mention Councilor Ed Glaser.

"It makes me wonder who is steering the ship," MacLellan Ruf said.

She did not detail what conflict she was talking about or why she omitted Glaser from her list of councilors.

After the meeting, Glaser said MacLellan Ruf was apparently referring to him. He said he works occasionally on harbor pilot boats and once last year, the boat helped bring in a cruise ship to the harbor. He said he would abstain on a moratorium vote, if that comes before the council, and if the council asks him to abstain.

The council said last week that an advisory referendum should be held in November to gauge public sentiment. No vote has been scheduled.

The Harbor Management Commission has expressed opposition to larger cruise ships for the past 11 years. MacLellan-Ruf was on the committee 11 years ago when it issued a report that said large cruise ships pollute the waters, damage lobster gear, and increase crime in the communities where they stop.

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Comments (5)
Posted by: Gayle Murphy | May 15, 2018 17:09

Good for them. Finally, someone to put the Rockland anti-everything crowd in their place. Now, just think how much they could benefit from summer traffic in general if anyone besides the restaurants and the Grass Hopper Shop stayed open after 5 pm. Oh well, it’s their business, but the difference between Bar Harbor and Rockland is literally day and night.


John Murphy

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | May 15, 2018 16:06

Large ships bring more tourists but also natives and auto tourists perhaps might lose their view of a beautiful Maine harbor.

Posted by: Jeff Sukeforth | May 15, 2018 14:44

Small or large ships, don't they all carry passengers with green in their pockets. Kind of like I mentioned in a comment on the last comment, 80 whole people shouldn't be speaking up for the entire city because of their agenda(s).


Posted by: judith wenzel andersen | May 15, 2018 13:27

It is wonderful that stores and restaurants have done well, but the ships which have been here have mostly been smaller ones, not the 1,000 to 2,000 passenger ships which overwhelm towns and regions. The small ships are good for this area and we must all be grateful for them, but 1,000 to 2,000 passengers will bring sad consequences to us all.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 15, 2018 13:25


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