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Restaurants struggle with uncertainty as pandemic continues

By Daniel Dunkle | Oct 07, 2020
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Marriner's Restaurant in Camden is one of many dealing with the ever-changing regulations of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Camden — Area restaurants have had mixed reactions to news that the state is going into “Phase 4” of its reopening plans.

Factors including being a long-established business in the area, offering takeout rather than sit-in and the availability of outdoor seating have helped some remain busy during the summer of COVID-19. However, they have had to make due with fewer customers and in some cases hired fewer employees and have seen increases in the cost of doing business as a result of the pandemic.

Bars, restaurants and other indoor operations, including churches and theaters, will be limited to 50 percent of capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower, as part of Phase 4, according to the Portland Press Herald.

“Bars and tasting rooms can reopen Nov. 2, while restaurants can have more people inside starting Oct. 13,” the newspaper reported.

The change in the rules will not affect the Waterfront Restaurant in Camden, according to General Manager Ellie Vest, because it could not fit any more people inside with the six-foot safety distancing anyway.

She said the restaurant has been busy with people waiting for tables, but at half capacity, the business still did not make what it could have in a normal year.

She noted that keeping customers and employees safe costs a lot of money, with extra going into to-go packaging and other products needed for take-out. The cost of those kinds of items are up as well due to the COVID-19 -created demand. Safety has been the number one priority for the business.

In addition, the restaurant has had to make changes to the menu to deal with the changing business environment.

During the good weather, it has been able to seat people on tables on the deck along with people inside and at the bar. As winter arrives, the outdoor business will be lost.

She said the restaurant has been in business 42 years, though, and plans to ride out the storm.

John McCluskey of the Camden House of Pizza actually expects the changes in regulations to potentially hurt his business. Since his is mostly a takeout operation, more indoor tables at other restaurants might mean fewer customers for him.

He said he has had a decent year despite the pandemic. He said March, April and May were tough, June was a little flat, but business picked up in the summer.

He said that when it rains, which it has not been often this summer due to the drought, he sees an uptick in business.

He is uncertain what the winter will bring. In past years, business has picked up when parents going out to basketball games and school plays decided they didn’t want to cook and picked up pizzas. With those events being canceled, he may be affected. It shows how everything in a small town affects everyone there.

Dan Gabriel, owner of Marriner's, said, “We have been fortunate.” He said since it is a long building from the street to the water, he has room to provide booths with social distancing. Still, he is glad to see the reopening going into the next phase.

“If you told me in May what September would look like, I’d say I’ll take it,” he said.

He said his concern has been for his staff, which includes family members. When they go in their masks to work with the public, they do not know if the person at the table has been in a car for several days or in quarantine.

As a result of the pandemic, while the restaurants have remained busy at smaller capacities, some did not hire extra summer help as they have in other years.

Not all of the restaurants have faired so well. Some in the area have closed this year.

Others have actually opened in the midst of this, including Ports of Italy at the former location of The Helm in Rockport.

Offering outdoor seating, it has been able to do business in the warm months, but as it gets colder, that seating will not be utilized.

Owner Sante Calandri worries about the experience of the diners. He likes to see people sit and enjoy his pasta dishes immediately, noting that with takeout it’s a different experience.

“My business is doing very well,” he said. “Could do better with no COVID. People are afraid to go out.”

The new Ports of Italy restaurant in Rockport. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
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Comments (2)
Posted by: Joseph F Dunkle | Oct 08, 2020 14:30

Sad



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Oct 08, 2020 09:23

Virus or not winter is coming traditionally a slow period for many restaurants & bars.  The reality pandemic or not, our area is quickly becoming "seasonal".  Visit Breckenridge Col. in mid summer a giant ski community, probably not a lot going on.  Many would be wise to just close for a few winter months and open in the spring. Others who cannot will close, some permanently.  While our elected representatives in Washington are on break.  Mostly Millionaires unaware of our plight and many just don't really care.  If they did we would all have a safety net to fall back on.  This is the Alamo and the calvary  is not coming.



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