Outdoor dining helps Bar Harbor restaurants that are at a lower seating capacity this season. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Busy August, but still a rough year for tourism

BAR HARBOR — In early June, Town Council Chair Jeff Dobbs and Town Manager Cornell Knight wrote to Governor Janet Mills, urging her to lift restrictions on travelers from out of state. 

“We have heard from many businesses that their revenues are down by 90 percent compared to last year and that is backed up by the town’s parking revenue, which is also down 90 percent,” they wrote. 

Now that August is coming to a close, the picture is quite different. The yeartodate town parking revenue as of Aug. 16 was down 36 percent from last year, but in the first two weeks of August, there were five days when the town’s parking revenue exceeded the same day last year, two of them by more than $2,000. 

The sidewalks are crowded, but that doesn’t mean that businesses are out of the woods. 

The busy sidewalks are “by no means an indication of how the 2020 season will be when it is all said and over,” said David Witham of Witham Family Hotels, one of the two large hotel groups in town. 

They do seem to indicate, though, that the safety measures implemented by businesses and by the town are working, as cases of the coronavirus among residents remain very low. “I can say loudly now that tourism is not a dangerous activity,” said Eben Salvatore of the other large group, Bar Harbor Hotels. 

Salvatore said August has been “right in line” with recent years at the hotels in his group. Witham said, “occupancy has been up in August over July but still well below a normal year. 

In July, Maine lodging businesses said they were down 60-70 percent from last year. 

Restaurants have benefited from the lack of rain, which makes it easier for customers to wait outside and to eat outside, but that’s about the only thing that’s been easy. 

The Terrace Grill at the Bar Harbor Inn “often has a two hour wait but we can only seat up to 50 guests, which is well below half of our normal sitting capacity,” Witham said. “It simply doesn’t take much to make us look very busy when in fact we are doing half the normal business. 

Business leaders say the prevalence of COVID-19 in Massachusetts is falling and are frustrated that the state has not lifted the quarantine and testing requirement for visitors from there. They are worried about what will happen in the fall, and about the fate of smaller businesses. 

I think the real damage will be a silent damage,’” Witham said. “Businesses will battle on through the fall and continue to cover their payroll and expenses. However, when the winter months come and the business’s nest egg was never adequately built to cover the expenses for this time period, I think in the spring we could find a downtown with some vacant storefronts. I hope I am wrong. 


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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