New restrictions could complicate long winter for Maine hospitality businesses

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With winter around the corner, Maine bars and tasting rooms have been ordered to delay indoor service until further notice in accordance with new state mandates to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.

The restrictions present another hurdle for businesses struggling to get through the pandemic. In Portland alone, at least 25 hospitality businesses have permanently closed, according to the Portland Food Map.

For bars and tasting rooms, which had been scheduled to reopen seating indoors on Nov. 2, the immediate outlook is discouraging, Steve Hewins, CEO of HospitalityMaine, told The Center Square by email.

“They are all in survival mode now,” said Hewins, “We are entering the off season for all of Maine’s hospitality businesses, with the economic challenges only becoming worse.”

Maine’s total bar and restaurant business was more than $3 billion in 2019 and is forecast to be down by 35% this year, stated Hewins.

There is much at stake for an industry that is one of Maine’s primary economic drivers.

“It is an industry that is at the forefront of Maine’s ‘brand’ and an attractor for visitors and a draw for new residents,” said Hewins.

“HospitalityMaine has advocated for the administration to use any remaining Cares [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act funds to help bars, tasting rooms and restaurants retool for the winter months with heaters, tents, UV devices, HEPA air filtration systems, and similar equipment to help them remain open. Any money unspent by year end is subject to ‘claw back’ by the federal government,” said Hewins.

The Mills administration stated in a news release that bars and tasting rooms will remain closed to indoor service until further notice.

“Safety comes first but the hospitality industry, which is 95% small businesses, cannot be expected to shoulder the burden without significant financial assistance from government and support of the general public by continuing to patronize them,” said Hewins.

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