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On Thursday afternoon, Missy Turner stood near the entrance of Anglers Restaurant in Hampden prepared to leave and unsure of when she would be back.
She had spent the day overseeing the shutdown of the seafood restaurant where she has been the general manager since 2018. That included freezing what food could be frozen and distributing perishables the restaurant would not be able to serve — fish, pot roast, macaroni and cheese, burgers, and produce — to staff that suddenly found themselves out of work and unsure of the future.
Like restaurants across the state, Anglers shuttered on Wednesday in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the same day Gov. Janet Mills urged all nonessential businesses to close. The restaurant is tentatively scheduled to reopen April 1, Turner said. But she knew that date could change.
Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik
As the virus spreads across the state and the globe, workers in the hospitality industry, which generates billions of dollars annually for the Maine economy, face a new kind of uncertainty.
“None of us want to be out of work,” Turner said. “We’re all in panic mode.”
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Alongside the masses of other hospitality workers across the state, Anglers’ approximately 30 furloughed workers represent an industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The hospitality industry, which includes restaurants and hotels, has an outsized presence in Maine, which has contributed to its identity as “Vacationland.” The accommodations and food service industry’s proportion of the Maine economy is about a third larger than the industry’s proportion of the national economy.
During the height of the last summer season, nearly 13 percent of the Maine workforce — or about 85,000 people — was employed by the hospitality industry, according to federal data.
Economists and industry members alike are worried that the repercussion of the pandemic will extend into the summer season that many businesses depend on to make ends meet.
Even Anglers’ Hampden location, which is open year-round and relatively far from the coast, is dependent on the summer season. A summer day could easily generate three times the amount of revenue as a day in March, manager Ann Tuck said.
Hotels, the other major part of Maine’s hospitality industry, are already seeing widespread cancellations for the summer season, and current occupancy rates for many have fallen into the single digits, said Steve Hewins, president and CEO of Hospitality Maine, a trade group that represents hotels and restaurants.
“It’s a pretty dire situation,” Hewins said. “We don’t know when the ‘all clear’ bell is going to sound. We can’t even predict if the summer is going to replenish businesses like it typically does.”
Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik
Maine’s high volume of seasonal workers makes it especially susceptible to an ill-timed economic hit, said Michael Donihue, an economist at Colby College in Waterville.
“We have a really vulnerable population, not just because we’re the oldest state but because we don’t have that much disposable income and people depend a lot on seasonal work,” Donihue said. “If we don’t have the season, it’s hard for them to make it.”
The economic future of many small businesses and their workers might depend on how long experts say social distancing is needed to save lives, as well as how much the government is willing to help.
On Thursday, Anglers workers helped each other.
In the dining room, staff members, as young as 21 and as old as 55, sat around a few tables and helped one another apply for unemployment online. Ten or so staff members shared a laptop and her iPad to submit their applications electronically, Turner said.
“It was pretty amazing to see that,” said Turner, who commutes from Belfast. “Everybody here is super close. That’s one reason I drive 45 minutes every day.”
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease