BAR HARBOR — After undergoing a significant downsizing after losing the concessions contract for Jordan Pond House and other Acadia National Park locations, officials with the Acadia Corporation say that their company is eyeing potential expansion next year.
With the loss of the Acadia contract, the 80-year-old company lost two-thirds of its gross sales, causing significant cuts to seasonal and year-round managerial and front-line staff, company director Dave Woodside said this week. It was only through running their downtown shops that the company managed to survive the change, he said. Officials are glad they had those locations to continue operations.
“Fortunately, we had the outside opportunities to fall back on, so it wasn’t like we had to pull up stakes and move away from here. That would have been a really devastating thing,” Woodside said. “Obviously, it’s been a very different year for us. But, we’re happy with what we did in the six stores, where we were slightly ahead of last year.”
With a significant amount of management, warehouse and office capacity that is now underutilized, company leaders spent some time this summer thinking about their future. Their options, it seemed, were to think about growing their business again or cutting capacity; after some soul-searching, only the growth option seemed to make sense, Woodside said.
“We basically decided that we were interested in continuing some moderate levels of growth … as opportunities come up, both in retail and other hospitality areas. Nothing is finalized as of yet, but we have been discussing a new opportunity for next year,” Woodside said. “There could be more popovers in our future.”
In recent years, Acadia Corp. had employed around 200 people every season. That number dropped to 50 this year. Revenue from operations in the park totaled around $6 million, representing two-thirds of the company’s overall revenue picture.
The company maintains offices and warehouse space on Route 102 in Town Hill. Those locations were significantly quieter than usual this year. The remaining managerial staff spent much of their time helping out in the warehouse, where staffing levels were cut from five to two full-time jobs.
“There were seldom more than one or two people in the office during the day. Often, if I was there, I would be working in the warehouse,” Woodside said. “We decided going into the year that we were going to play that conservatively and take on some of those roles ourselves. We’ve always been a hands-on team, but it was more so this year than in the past.”
Woodside has been with Acadia Corp. for 38 years, having started with the company as a store manager at the Thunder Hole gift shop in 1978. The company saw steady expansion over that time, and Woodside said this week that in an ironic way, that very expansion made them vulnerable.
“I think we were too successful here in Acadia, to the point where we became attractive to bigger companies. If we had stayed half the size or less, it would have been less attractive,” Woodside said.
Acadia Corp. was the sole vendor in Acadia National Park from the very inception of the park in the early 1900s. For many years, contract renewals were pro forma. However, recent changes to National Park Service rules created a much more competitive environment.
Despite putting a year’s time and substantial funds into their application, Acadia Corp. lost their most recent bid to continue as vendor, and Ortega Family Enterprises, doing business in Maine as Dawnland LLC, was given the job. The New Mexico-based company is significantly larger than Acadia Corp, running vendor services in several national parks and steadily expanding.
At one time, it seemed like people in the community felt that Acadia Corp. was taking unfair advantage by expanding their presence downtown. It is now clear that that strategy paid off, Woodside said, because the company would have been in much worse trouble without the shops.
If there was one positive thing to come out of the events of the past year, it has been learning just how important Acadia Corp. is to people here and how much they really care for the people that work there, Woodside said.
“One thing we learned out of the whole process was how much support we had from the local community. It was pretty overwhelming,” Woodside said. “You feel like a part of a community, and I think that’s one of the things that’s lost in these more transient companies. They really are not as much as a part of things locally. They can’t be.”