As coronavirus concerns have led to online ordering backups or suspensions at some large grocery stores, some locally owned food and beverage businesses in Maine have started delivering their products straight to consumers to offset the loss of walk-in sales.
The businesses are hoping the deliveries will generate some revenue while they have to close their premises to customers, and will help keep their names in front of customers for when operations can return to normal.
Crooked Porch Coffee Roasters in Bar Harbor, the Fogtown and Strong breweries in Hancock County, and Damon’s Beverage in Bangor are some eastern Maine businesses that now offer direct-to-consumer deliveries within a certain distance of their locations. Among restaurants, Bagel Central in downtown Bangor, Royal Indian in Bar Harbor and Peter Trout’s Tavern in the Southwest Harbor village of Manset are among the many food and drink sellers throughout Maine that now offer curbside and limited delivery service.
Meanwhile, Hannaford supermarkets have suspended their online ordering services that allow customers to pick up their orders at their local store to free up employees to restock shelves as quickly as possible, according to a statement posted on the company website. Hannaford says it plans to restore the service at the end of March.
And at the Ellsworth Walmart on Thursday, all scheduled pickup times for Thursday and Friday had been booked and online customers were advised to look for possible available pickup times over the weekend.
Jon Stein, co-owner of Fogtown Brewing, said Thursday the Ellsworth brewery has been offering deliveries of orders for at least $50 worth of canned beer and merchandise for about a week. The brewery hasn’t received many delivery requests yet, he said, estimating that he has made seven deliveries so far. But the business needs to try something to counteract the drop in sales that have resulted from the mandated statewide suspension of in-house service at bars and restaurants, Stein said.
A law passed in Maine in the early 2000s that allows small breweries to sell beer in tasting rooms made it possible for small breweries to survive in Maine, he said. Between 80 and 90 percent of Fogtown’s revenues have been in the form of sales to customers who visit the brewery.
“It’s hugely impactful,” Stein said of not having customers come in to buy and drink beer on the premises.
Stein said that he would like to get more delivery orders, which Fogtown is offering within a 20-mile radius of downtown Ellsworth. But even if they don’t pick up, the deliveries help to boost customer loyalty and hopefully will translate to a quick return of bar sales when the brewery eventually reopens to the public, he said.
In the meantime, the brewery is canning everything it brews. With table and bar service suspended for all places that serve food, there is no market for keg sales. He said the brewery also sells canned beer at a walk-up window at certain times, and is considering other offers such as heavily discounted sales for health care workers.
Crooked Porch owner Dirk Erlandsen said he will deliver bags of whole coffee beans to anyone living on Mount Desert Island, or between MDI and downtown Ellsworth. He has created a “locals only” website where people who live in the delivery area can order and pay online for their coffee. He will drop off orders on Mondays and Thursdays, leaving coffee on front doorsteps to avoid direct physical contact with his customers.
Erlandsen said the service is geared not just toward making it easier for locals to buy coffee beans, but also to reassure those concerned about risking exposure to COVID-19.
“It’s just me at the roastery,” he said, adding that as a one-man operation he has no employees. “I lock the doors and follow all the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] guidelines” to reduce the risk of infection.
Paul Hammond, assistant manager of Damon’s Beverage and Redemption in Bangor, said Thursday that, while the business already offered delivery, the store’s delivery orders have shot up in the past couple of weeks.
“We maybe did one or two a month and now are doing five or six a day,” Hammond said.
Damon’s still provides walk-in service, though it limits the number of customers who can be in the store at any one time. It has seen its wholesale business to area bars and restaurants drop off considerably, he said.
But getting delivery orders helps, he said. Buyers pay over the phone and then show the delivery drivers proper ID to prove they are old enough to buy alcohol — which they can do by holding up their driver’s licenses on the inside of a house window. The driver then leaves the order on the front step, he said.
“Everything is changing daily,” Hammond said about operating restrictions and guidelines. “We thank our stars every day [that] we’re open.”