BAR HARBOR–These days, before customers come in to First Express on Cottage Street to mail a package, some will call and ask owner, Jen Cough, ‘what’s the protocol?’
Even though she has adjusted some of the business’s practices to keep customers and herself safe during the COVID19 pandemic, Cough encourages callers to use common sense.
Pre-paid packages can be left outside the business for her to retrieve. For packages that need to be weighed, labeled, taped up and shipped, Cough is doing more of the work than her customers are these days.
“First thing I did was set up a clean pen station, and that was a month ago,” Cough said.
One of the first things she asks customers when they come in is if they have a pen. If not, they can take one she provides from the clean, friendly, new pens container, use it and then leave it in a dirty pen box to be sanitized later.
“Use it once and hold it until you’re done and then you put it in the box,” she explains.
There is no longer a stapler, tape dispenser or paper clips available in the front of the store for public use.
“Anything people can touch, it’s all gone,” Cough added. “The only things they can touch are the door handle and countertop.”
Both of which she wipes down regularly, just like employees of the Southwest Harbor Food Mart are doing with carts and common-contact surfaces at their store.
“Any handles customers touch are wiped down,” said Food Mart Manager Robin Davis Nason.
At the small market, 35 people are allowed in the store at a time, not including employees.
“We ask [customers] to bring a cart in so we can keep track of people in the store,” she explained in a conversation with the Islander. “Some people don’t want to adhere to it and some people are wonderful.”
A lot of store’s business these days is done via delivery. Orders can be called in and emailed. Volunteers will fill the order and deliver it.
“We have so many orders,” said Davis Nason, adding that about 25-30 orders come into the store Tuesday through Friday. Volunteers working in the store are considered essential workers.
For customers coming to do business inside the food mart, there are two out of the three registers open at a time, and plexiglass now is planted between customer and cashier.
Despite Southwest Harbor being the first town on Mount Desert Island to ban single-use plastic bags, they are again being used for groceries.
“People can bring their own bags in, but we don’t touch them,” said Davis Nason. “We ask them to bag [their groceries] themselves.”
Wearing masks and gloves is at the discretion of each employee, but many customers are wearing them in the store.
Keeping supplies stocked has been the most difficult thing for the small grocery store. Customers are limited to a certain number when buying essentials such as flour, sugar, eggs and toilet paper.
“Yeast has been really hard for us to get,” said Davis Nason, proving true the theory that people are baking more bread while stuck at home. “We’re just trying our best to get a lot of things in.”
Sourcing plumbing parts has also been tough for plumber Jim Jordan, who owns Everett G. Jordan, Inc. and has an office in Hulls Cove.
“Supply’s even shorter and now we’re cut off from what we might need,” he said in a conversation with the Islander this week. “A lot of times we don’t know what we need until we get to that particular spot [in the job].”
Jordan describes plumbing like putting together a puzzle with many parts and pieces.
“You may be stymied at one point,” he said about not having the right piece for a particular installment, “at another point you can keep going.”
Most of the work Jordan is involved in these days are construction jobs he has been doing since before the threat of the coronavirus hit the community.
“I’ve had jobs going on where basically I’m the only one there,” said Jordan, who does get called to work on furnaces in people’s homes. When going into people’s homes, he said he keeps his distance and focuses on the work.
A big part of his employment involves turning water on for seasonal properties, which hasn’t really started happening yet. Although Jordan typically starts to turn water on in houses this time in April, he expects to put it off until May this year. A few of the places he services in Mount Desert need meters installed once the water is turned on.
“I’ve got to call ahead to get a meter,” he said about that town’s new procedure. “You can’t just walk into the office anymore like you used to.”
Customers at Skip’s Automotive Services in Southwest Harbor are not hanging around at the garage after dropping their vehicle off to be worked on as much these days.
“Unless they really need it, [people] are not bringing their car in,” said garage owner Skip Wilson. “We’re down to half a crew… Business has slowed down.”
Some of his employees are on furlough, Wilson explained. If anyone working now gets sick, those who are on leave can come back into the shop to work.
Getting into people’s vehicles to do work is tricky, but employees of Skip’s Automotive Services are doing what they can to be safe and keep customers safe.
“We’re wiping down doorknobs at the office,” said Wilson, adding car door handles, steering wheels and shifters to the list. “We’re wiping their keys down. Anything we’re touching, we’re trying to wipe down before and after we’re using it.”
When a vehicle from out of state was recently brought to the auto garage, employees sanitized the inside and left it for 24 hours before working on it.
“We don’t know where it’s been,” said Wilson. “We just do what we can to protect ourselves.”
Employees at the garage wear gloves on an average workday, anyway. Now they are wearing masks too. Some are donning the heavy-duty respirator mask required when working with chemicals, just to be extra cautious.
Officers at the Southwest Harbor Police Department officers are also doing a bit more to protect themselves these days.
“We’re not spending a whole lot of time on registrations and inspections,” said Police Chief Alan Brown, explaining the 30-day waiver issued by the state for expired stickers once the state of emergency has lifted. “We’re still stopping cars, because cars still need to be stopped. We’re trying to do everything we can as safely as possible.”
Because the dispatch window at the station is closed to the public, burn permits for residents of Southwest Harbor and Tremont can be done over the phone. Outside of wiping down the cruisers and workstations, officers carry hand sanitizer in their vehicles and wash hands regularly.
“I would say our handwashing has gone up tremendously,” said Brown, adding the department has a small supply of masks. “We’re trying to do everything we can as safely as possible.”
This includes answering emergency calls to homes and businesses.
“If it’s a matter that we can have the person come outside and talk to us, that is the preference,” said Brown. “Do we still have to go into houses? Yes, and we’re doing whatever we can to protect ourselves.”
This goes for crew workers of MDI Property Maintenance and Management of Tremont who work on properties all over Mount Desert Island. Business owner, Mike Mansolilli, who is also a selectman in that town, told others on his board he is prohibiting his crew members from going inside grocery stores, gas stations or hardware stores while on the clock.
“It’s not just for their health as it is everybody else on the crew and everybody else they’re in contact with,” he said during an April 3 meeting. “No going in the store and signing for gas anymore.”
Mansolilli asks the employees to call the store, give their name and truck number and let the company pay later. He has also implemented a ‘one person in the company’s shop at a time’ procedure, including contractors or vendors visiting the property.
“We have a sanitization process we go through every day,” he explained. “We’ve had to change things a little bit, but I think if everybody did that, then we’d be a lot better off.”