SOUTHWEST HARBOR— After a quiet spring because of the pandemic and uncertainty around traveling, the phones at L.S. Robinson Real Estate and Vacation Rentals have been ringing off the hook lately.
“We couldn’t rent prior to July. Normally, we book in January, February and March,” said Joe Wright, who owns the company that manages about 300 rental properties around Mount Desert Island and Trenton. “Once the regulations opened up, people started calling in a frenzy, and they still are. I don’t ever remember a season, ever, and I’ve been doing this awhile, that was this insane in August with bookings.”
There are very few openings, at this point, for the next couple of weeks because of the onslaught. According to Wright, business in July for the company was down about 50 percent from last year’s business.
While many inns and restaurants are facing increased costs due to additional precautionary procedures in order to host guests, L.S. Robinson and other property management companies have fewer added responsibilities because they manage individual versus congregate spaces.
“For us, we haven’t had anything except for extra paperwork, keeping up with the state regulations,” said Wright. “I’m sure cleaners are charging more because they are wearing masks and using more product… We’re asking tenants to leave the windows open when they leave.”
All of the extra requirements were more than The Inn at Southwest Harbor managers Dora Banegas and Daniel Traub were willing to put their guests through.
“We’re just going to close for the season and call it a loss,” said Banegas. She explained the extras included guests wearing a mask at all times outside the rooms, taking guests temperatures and extra cleaning measures. “It wouldn’t benefit us to open up. You won’t get the full bed and breakfast experience.”
It wasn’t an easy decision and they waited as long as possible before making the call.
“We were holding off until August 18,” said Banegas. “All of our reservations were canceling. For us, it’s a loss because we enjoy what we do. We had a lot of returning guests that wanted to come back.”
Instead of stewing on the loss, Banegas and her partner decided to make the best of the situation.
“We actually got an RV and we’re traveling,” said Banegas. “It’s our first summer off and we’re pretty excited about it, but we’re pretty sad, too.”
Banegas was not the only one to shutter doors for the season, but most are trying to make what they can amid heavy regulations and a smaller crowd.
“It is definitely getting better over the last month,” said Dustin Gallant who owns the Dog and Pony Tavern in Bar Harbor. “It was a little touch and go in June. Fourth of July was slow and it has been picking up steadily in the last few weeks… We just have to make sure we follow protocol to a T.”
When the restaurant opened Memorial Day weekend, it only offered outside seating for guests.
“We’re very lucky to have that space to work with,” said Gallant. “We could open it first while we made adjustments to the inside space.”
Fewer tables mean a smaller staff who are doing twice the work, he explained.
“We’re at two-thirds the level of where we usually are with staff,” said Gallant. “Honestly, the biggest stress is the people who don’t want to comply. Eight-five percent of the people are really understanding and are willing to do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe. That last 15 percent can be really tough to deal with.”
Susan Allen, the new owner of The Harbour Cottage Inn, has the benefit of not having experience of past years to compare the added responsibilities of this season to.
“I’ve never operated a B&B before,” she said in an interview with the Islander. “On the whole, we’re definitely not going to have a banner year. Last year was a banner year for them.”
Employees of the inn include two housekeepers and two innkeepers, all of whom worked for the previous owners. Normally, there are seven people on staff, but because the season has been inconsistent, Allen is recruiting family to help when the load is greater.
“How can you hire someone if there are no shifts one week and the next there are seven?” she asked, adding that the inn already had pretty stringent procedures for cleanliness in place. “The face of the operation hasn’t changed except that now there’s a facemask on it. I think we’ve found a really nice balance. We’ve been lauded for safety and COVID efforts.”
Bookings at the inn were down in July compared to previous years.
“We really haven’t been to capacity until now,” said Allen. “It’s been a steady trickle. We’re busy for the next couple of weeks.”
In addition to owning and running an inn, Allen also manages the Causeway Country Club, the only golf course in town.
“We’ve been setting records for (number of) players,” she said about the business that had a green light to open in May. “The golf course has been busier than other years. We take tee times less for traffic control but more for contact tracing.”
Most of the business owners who spoke with the Islander expect to see things slow down after August, as with most seasons. Until then, those who are open are doing their best to stay afloat.
“I really do feel if we can live through this,” said Allen, “we’re great.”