By Sarah Hinckley and Ethan Genter
BAR HARBOR—After the rainy holiday weekend, Window Panes owner Julie Veilleux was “still trying to catch up.”
“It was just crazy busy. What I call the perfect storm; the three-day weekend and it was raining.” For the Main Street business, sales over the weekend were far and above where they were in 2019. Veilleux said she doesn’t even count last year, when most businesses were drastically affected by the pandemic.
Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Alf Anderson opined the rain may have actually pushed more people downtown, with tourists opting to spend their time nice and dry in shops and restaurants instead of on the trails.
“From what I have heard and seen, it was busy,” he said.
One large benefit was the lifted restrictions on capacity, which helped smaller venues max out their space, according to Anderson.
“That’s a big shift, that’s a positive for the business community here,” he said.
Even so, Anderson has seen businesses suffering from a lack of staff, forcing them to run on limited hours and even shutting down during the week to give the current workers a break.
Business at the Bar Harbor Inn was “pretty much on par with most years,” said general manager Jeremy Dougherty. “People were really excited to travel.”
But, like almost everywhere in town, the inn could use more staff. If summer is as busy as expected, staffing levels will be the limiting factor, not COVID-19 restrictions.
The inn has been capping the seating in its restaurants, even though they could be back up to full capacity.
“The volume of people who are coming are going to be difficult to manage with the people we have (working),” Dougherty said.
May was a record month in terms of occupancy at the hotel and June is already looking to be as busy as any previous July.
Dougherty said the company has been lucky to get about 95 percent of its workers through the foreign worker H-2B visa worker system – a process that many employers compare to betting your odds in a lottery.
In Southwest Harbor, Marty Williams is still waiting to build up a full crew before opening the cafe portion of her business, Dry Dock Inn and Cafe. Once more of her staff arrive, Williams expects to open in a couple of weeks. She is waiting on several employees from Eastern Europe who have J1 visas. But, recent problems in one country now have her waiting on employees to be approved from another country.
Earlier this week, Williams wasn’t even sure they were going to be able to come to the U.S. And if they did, they now have their pick of where to work because so many businesses are looking for staff.
Her husband, John Williams, said their business does not have the same problem as others finding people to work for them because they provide housing.
Even though the couple is waiting to open the restaurant, the inn, which operates year–round, has already been busier than in other years. “This is going to be a record-breaking season; we’re already seeing it at the inn,” said John, explaining how it has been full every weekend since April.
For Melt, a new restaurant on Main Street in Bar Harbor, it was a busy weekend.
“I think the weather put a little bit of a damper on it, but it seems like people still traveled to the area and came and everybody was excited to come check out all the local businesses,” said co-owner Alexis Walls. “So we’re very inspired by what we saw and we think it’s going to be a great season going forward.”
Like many places on the island, Walls is still looking for a few more employees and trying to adjust the hours to fit the needs of the customers and her crew’s ability to handle it.
Unlike many of her peers, Veilleux is fully staffed for the season. “I have several that have been with me for three years,” she said, adding that she hired three new employees. “I feel very fortunate.”
Even though it isn’t a staffing shortage that could influence how the season goes for Window Panes, their supply chain could be a problem.
“We’re going through product really quickly, but the challenge now is getting it,” said Veilleux, explaining how sometimes they have to wait two to five weeks for things to arrive. “We’re used to getting that quick turnaround.”
There is a myriad of reasons for the delay, which includes factories not being fully staffed and the increase in the cost of shipping and materials.
“You hate to have to increase the cost of product every year, but I can’t absorb it either,” said Veilleux.
Since the 2020 season was unlike any other, where some businesses opted not to open, others could not host the same number of patrons as in previous seasons or visitors just opted to wait another year before venturing out, and according to all predictions this season is set to be one for the records, Veilleux and Anderson echoed the same sentiment.
“We are hoping people are going to be kind and patient and allow us to get back into it,” Veilleux said.
Anderson also encouraged visitors to be kind and patient.
“(Employees) might be working their fourth 12-hour shift in a row,” he said.