Katie Sturino and her husband were cooking dinner in their rental home outside of Camden in May when she realized she had a problem — she had purchased five live lobsters, more than the couple could eat. In fact, her husband doesn’t even eat seafood.
“We’ve made many lobster friends here,” Sturino said, justifying her excessive purchases with her desire to help local small business owners. “We just had too many lobsters!”
So Sturino did what to her felt like a logical solution: She went to a nearby beach and “released” several of the lobsters back into the ocean. And she streamed the entire ordeal to her 551,000 Instagram followers.
“I could feel I had done something not very Maine,” Sturino said, admitting that her direct messages started to fill up with messages from Mainers chastising her for the faux pas.
Sturino, an entrepreneur and a body positive advocate on social media, has been living in Maine with her husband and three Insta-famous dogs since early March when they fled New York City at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Though they arrived a month before Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order restricting out-of-state travelers, their experience highlights the precarious position visitors can find themselves in as they navigate both state policies and social expectations.
“People were wary to rent to us because we were from the city,” Sturino said, adding that many Airbnb owners they contacted had inflated the usual costs for their properties, likely anticipating a decline in business this year. Mills’ executive order later forbade hotels, campgrounds and short-term rentals from booking out-of-state visitors — which was lifted on June 26 as long as arrivals can procure a negative COVID-19 test. “We were really lucky to find a place.”
The couple quarantined for 14 days, but still worried about how their presence would be greeted by locals. Those fears were amplified after a small group of Vinalhaven residents allegedly cut down a tree to barricade the driveway of a house where two men with New Jersey license plates were staying. Sturino and her husband own a car with New York license plates.
“I was like, ‘We need to put a sign in our [car] window because we’re so remote, and we don’t know what people are going to do,’ but we didn’t end up doing that.”
Despite early misgivings, Sturino said she has felt very welcomed by the community. She’s been vacationing in the state since she was 22, and it was the first place she thought of when the couple discussed leaving NYC. “I love it here so much. I love the nature, I love the opportunity to really connect with a whole different side of life in a different way outside the city than you can when you go to the Hamptons or in the tri-state area.”
The alleged incident appears to be related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Some of Sturino’s favorite discoveries since arriving in Vacationland include Mount Battie, which she hikes on a nearly daily basis, the meat from Bleecker & Greer butcher shop in Rockport and takeout from Long Grain in Camden. Perhaps most importantly, she’s learned to appreciate the native delicacy that is the whoopie pie.
“I must not have ever had a real Maine whoopie pie, because every whoopie pie I’ve had has been a little … who cares. But the whoopie pies I’ve had here are like, I don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re fresh and they’re so good.”
She’s documented her acclimation to Maine life to her Instagram followers, including her first time meeting a “clammer” (yes, she used quotation marks), her first experience with midcoast Maine food delivery (a woman in a van) and her embrace of Maine fashion (it involves a lot of Lands’ End). She said the couple have made patronizing the local small businesses that have remained open throughout the pandemic one of their goals.
One dream Sturino still has left on her Maine to-do list? See a puffin in its natural habitat.
She’s balancing all of this while still running her beauty product company, Megababe, from Maine. And with the virus still spreading throughout the country, the couple is prepared to settle down here for the time being. They’re even looking into buying a home in the area.
“I think we’ll be in Maine for a while,” Sturino said. “We’re waiting to see what happens, we’ve been house shopping. I think there will be a bit of a [mass exodus] from New York, but New York has gone through things before, and it comes back.”