Downtown Bar Harbor was nearly empty Sunday evening, in stark contrast to Memorial Day weekends in recent years. Lodging businesses are not allowed to open until June 1, and then only to travelers from Maine in most cases. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Quiet Memorial Day a chilling sign for seasonal businesses

BAR HARBOR — Galyn’s Galley, a restaurant near the water on Main Street, lost about half its seating when the staff moved tables farther apart to comply with social distancing rules. 

But there’s no need, right now, for half of our seating,” said owner Gail Leiser. There wouldn’t have been customers to fill the seats anyway. 

Sunday evening, the block of Main Street outside the restaurant was one of the few in town with any cars parked on the street at all. 

Some shops and restaurants had a few more customers during the day, but the consensus for the weekend was that Bar Harbor seemed like a ghost town. 

“It was basically like an April weekend,” Leiser said. 

Many seasonal businesses have delayed opening, but those that have opened are competing for a customer base that’s not much bigger than the year-round population. 

With the first really warm days of the season, some business owners were optimistic that residents or people from elsewhere in Maine would want to come out over the holiday weekend, even if they had to drive back home the same day. 

“It’s not Memorial Day weekend like it normally is in Bar Harbor,” Blaze owner Matt Haskell said Friday. The restaurant has not reopened, but the company’s food truck set up in a parking lot at the Ivy Manor Inn for a weekend barbeque pop-up. 

“But we’re restaurant people, we’ve got these trailers and people like barbecue.” 

The Blaze trailers have traveled to other restaurants this spring, too, including Provender in Ellsworth, in a collaboration designed to help the host businesses. 

“Us restaurant owners, we’re being creative these days, that’s for sure,” Haskell said. 

But the state’s stay at home order is still in place through May 31, and that’s what most families did. 

Even after June 1, in-state visitation won’t be enough to sustain lodging businesses and that will mean fewer customers for restaurants, shops and tours, the Board of Directors of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to Governor Janet Mills last week. 

State officials have said the state might be able to remove the 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors if an alternative plan is developed, such as a way to provide more extensive testing for COVID-19. But for the moment, the quarantine rule remains. 

In-state tourism is not enough, and the quarantine rule is driving people away,” the chamber board wrote. “Based on current occupancy forecasts, (lodging businesses) may not open at all this season and those who own several properties may only open a portion of their businesses. 

Almost every business in Bar Harbor relies on the visitors that stay in our local lodging establishments. If lodging cannot open, many of our businesses will fail. 

The chamber recently released lists of best practices for businesses and a visitor code of conduct. By following these practices as well as state guidelines, the group argues, visitation including out-of-state guests can be managed safely. 

We are urging you to please remove the 14-day quarantine by June 1 at the latest and allow us the opportunity to show you what we are capable of. Hospitality is our business. We will not let you down. 

A recent survey of local businesses found that 45 percent did not think they could sustain their business longer than six months in the partial shutdown. Most of the businesses participating in the anonymous survey were “leisure and hospitality” businesses with 10 or fewer employees. 

Some respondents cited concerns that employees wouldn’t want to come back to work if they are making more money on unemployment than they did when they were working. Some said the town and state government’s actions have been anti-business, while others expressed fear about how to open safely. 

I want to ensure that my employees and guests are safe and do not contract the virus because of anything I have done or not done,” one respondent wrote. 

It’s not only drivers of cars registered in other states who have been the victims of hostility in the current environment, another business leader wrote. 

“Community shaming and judgement is at an alltime high. Even if the state says that opening is safe and OK, our extreme community may shame anyone who does. 



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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