Federal shutdown cited in lower sales for Bar Harbor merchants

Acadia National Park heavy equipment mechanic Ray Sanborn offers directions to a tourist who wanted to see as much of Acadia as possible despite the federal government shutdown and the closure of the park in October. Recent figures show the shutdown caused a significant loss of revenue for area merchants.
Kevin Bennett
Acadia National Park heavy equipment mechanic Ray Sanborn offers directions to a tourist who wanted to see as much of Acadia as possible despite the federal government shutdown and the closure of the park in October. Recent figures show the shutdown caused a significant loss of revenue for area merchants. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 28, 2013, at 10:56 a.m.
The streets, sidewalks and parks of Bar Harbor seem fuller then normal as tourist and cruise ship passengers were denied access to Acadia National Park because of the federal government shutdown and resulting closure of the park in October. Recent figures show the shutdown caused a significant loss of revenue for area merchants.
Kevin Bennett
The streets, sidewalks and parks of Bar Harbor seem fuller then normal as tourist and cruise ship passengers were denied access to Acadia National Park because of the federal government shutdown and resulting closure of the park in October. Recent figures show the shutdown caused a significant loss of revenue for area merchants. Buy Photo

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Retail sales in the Bar Harbor area dropped by nearly $1 million in October compared to a year ago, a drop likely due to the federal government shutdown that closed Acadia National Park to the public.

The shutdown lasted 16 days, beginning Oct. 1.

Ruth Eveland, the chairman of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said Friday that merchants reported suffering lost revenues as a result of the closure of Acadia.

“There were a lot of cancellations,” Eveland said of potential visitors canceling reservations at lodging places. Those cancellations had a ripple effect with restaurants and gift shops also seeing decreased sales.

“The people who came had a great time, but many people heard of the closure and canceled,” she said.

The Maine Bureau of Revenue Services reported that retail sales for the Bar Harbor economic summary area totaled $24.2 million in October 2013. This is down from $25.1 million in October 2012. This was a drop of nearly 4 percent. The Bar Harbor area is defined by the state as the communities on Mt. Desert Island as well as surrounding islands such as Frenchboro, Swans and Cranberry islands.

Lodging sales in the Bar Harbor area dropped from $7.4 million to less than $7.3 million from October of last year to October of this year. Restaurants in the Bar Harbor area saw sales drop from $7.4 million to less than $6.8 million during that same period. Sales at gift shops, jewelers and other smaller shops dropped from nearly $3.9 million to less than $3.5 million.

The drop in Bar Harbor was in contrast to the sales pattern for all of Maine. Statewide in October, retail sales totaled $1.48 billion, a 5 percent increase from $1.41 billion in October 2012.

At the same time that Bar Harbor saw the decline in retail sales, Camden Hills State Park officials reported that it saw a significant increase in visitors to the state park in Camden while Acadia was closed to the public. Camden Hills likely saw the jump in business because it is located on Route 1, along the road that most visitors heading to Acadia would take, Camden Hills park officials reported.

While the state park reported a jump in visitors, the the Camden economic summary area saw its overall retail sales decline from $13.8 million in October 2012 to $13.3 million in October 2013. This area includes Rockport, Lincolnville and Islesboro.

The closure of Acadia for 16 days is estimated to have resulted in the loss of approximately $950,000 in visitor spending inside the park, federal park officials said in October. That approximate figure is the combined estimated total in lost entrance fees and lost revenue at gift shops and a restaurant in the park that had to close when Acadia locked its gates.

In an article earlier this month, Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Fogg said the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Friends of Acadia and local business owners also did their best to entice visitors to come to Bar Harbor by advertising all the things people can do in the region outside the park such as boat tours, museums, trails and more.

Despite these efforts, Fogg stated in his article that the economic and social losses during the first two weeks of October were significant.

“Because of the shutdown, the phones stopped ringing at local hotels. Visitors from China who had planned to visit multiple national parks on their trip to America were disappointed not to be able to drive to Cadillac Mountain, see the Liberty Bell or tour the Smithsonian. One hotel in the Bar Harbor area reported a loss of $33,000, while another reported as many as 182 room cancellations,” he stated.

Bar Harbor sees a dramatic fluctuation in retail sales based on the season. In February 2013, retail sales totaled $3.8 million for the region but peaked in August 2013 at $58.2 million.

While October saw a decline in the Bar Harbor area, the remainder of the tourist season, however, was strong. Overall retail sales in the region from June 1 through Oct. 31 rose about 5 percent from $204 million in 2012 to $214 million in 2013, according to the state revenue services figures.

Statewide, retail sales rose about 6 percent during that same period — $8.2 billion to $8.7 billion. Statewide sales have much less of a swing by month than seen in tourist-dependent regions such as Bar Harbor and Camden. Statewide sales range from a low of $1.1 billion in February to a high of nearly $1.9 billion in August.

The Camden area from June 1 through Oct. 30 in 2013 had total retail sales of $99 million, up 2 percent from $97 million a year earlier. Camden’s lowest sales are also in February when it had total retail sales of $6.3 million but it rises each month to a high to $24.8 million in August.

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