With all the debate about the government shutdown in the media, I thought it might be useful to explain the ripple effects in my small town, Bar Harbor, Maine.
As visitors begin to cancel their plans to visit Acadia because of the park’s shutdown, the impact is felt in every hotel, restaurant, and retail space on the island and throughout our region. We are a seasonal destination, and most of these businesses have a small window of time to make their money. They make plans around that window, purchase inventory based on that timing, and hire employees to meet the demand of tourists who come to the park for the fall.
This shutdown has endangered all of that. As weeks go by, more and more businesses will have to shut down for the season early, and I am hoping none of them permanently. Employees will be laid off, suppliers will have less demand, loans may be defaulted on, unemployment claims will rise, and we will all share the impact. The window is closing on reopening the park. And the costs are very real.
My friend and neighbor, Rich, runs a family-owned business, The Natural History Center, a few doors down from me. As a professional ornithologist, he relies on visitors coming to Acadia for the major source of his revenue. The day the park was announced closed, he immediately experienced cancellations of his tours. No park, fewer tours, fewer visitors. This shutdown puts everything he has worked for over the past few years at risk.
The brewery located here on the island can’t sell the new brew it had planned to release this month. Why? The federal agency that must approve all the labeling on beer is closed due to the shutdown. No agency, no label, no beer. The brewery had timed this rollout for months. And now a label stands in its way.
In my instance, the closing of Acadia National Park has directly impacted my ice cream and coffee business. We may have to consider shutting down earlier, laying off employees early, and delaying plans we had in place to move our business forward. I employ three people full-time year-round, and several more full-time seasonally. This also means we will purchase less milk from Maine dairy farmers and buy fewer ingredients from our local suppliers.
There are also many small businesses just like mine who are working with their local banks on securing a loan for expansion, upgrades, and repairs. Maybe they had been planning this for months or years. However, because both the IRS and the Small Business Administration are offline due to the shutdown (though apparently we still have to pay our taxes) new loans cannot be approved.
We are all hard-working small business owners who planned our livelihoods around a series of predictable assumptions. The closing of the park due to a politically motivated government shutdown was obviously not one of them.
I have no problem if Congress wants to argue about the role of government, whether it should ever be involved in things such as running national parks or monitoring food labeling. However, that is clearly not what is happening.
Acadia is not closed because of a thoughtful deliberation about the role of government and parks. It is closed because a handful of individuals want to make a political point about a completely unrelated issue. If this group was really concerned about the budget, they wouldn’t be trying to cut health care and anti-poverty programs, they’d be cutting the tax loopholes for big corporations and closing their offshore tax havens. There’s a bill submitted right now called the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would raise $220 billion over the next decade just by making our tax code more fair.
To be clear, I am not comparing our experiences to the pain that many other families around the nation are suffering. As someone whose sister’s life was saved by participation in experimental drug trials at NIH, I cannot begin to imagine the anxiety and worry over the future of NIH studies for the parents of children who were recently turned away. Nor would I ever compare my situation to those families who rely on federal assistance for heating, food, and other life necessities.
However, in all the media coverage of this event, we can often forget that the effects of this shutdown are not always easily seen, immediately known, or localized just to certain groups of people. They are widespread and devastating, and the ripples of this have just begun.
Linda Parker is owner of Mount Desert Island Ice Cream Co. and Matsumoto Joe Cafe in Bar Harbor.