In this Dec. 3, 2020, file photo, a sign outside a Portland restaurant lays down the pandemic rules. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
By Josh Deakin

In the last year, businesses have adapted and readapted to stay up-to-date with ever-changing rules and precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Restaurants in particular have kept on their toes, many evolving from primarily dine-in business to order ahead/pick up outside and adding outdoor seating for all types of weather. The idea behind this, of course, is to minimize contact with other people and maintain the Center for Disease Control’s guideline of maintaining a six-foot distance. 

Businesses that would normally allow as many customers as possible into their brick-and-mortar establishments now have a set number of people allowed in at one time. To make up the difference from the lack of customers walking around the store to browse, many of these stores are offering call-ahead ordering with curbside delivery service.

 “A great deal will change even after we get to the other side of this,” said Rick Phillips, the owner of Spotlight Cinemas in Orono. “We will continue to use contactless transactions as much as possible and keep the next level of sanitization of our facility. It’s a great way to minimize transmission of the common cold and flu.”

As Phillips said, it’s likely many of these changes are here to stay. Many of the precautions in place at the moment will help stop the spread of the flu as well, so it is understandable for certain practices to stick around even after the pandemic settles. 

Productions across the country, from movie theaters to stages for musicals, have had to adapt substantially to stay open. For example, practicing social distancing requires seats in theaters to be unavailable to promote a safe six-foot distance. Live music has had a large question mark hanging over its head since the pandemic began. When it returns, it’s certain to have many more safety precautions in place.

Most businesses have been affected by COVID-19 in some way in the last year. Many businesses rely on human interaction to be successful. It’s required lots of solution-based thinking to overcome the challenges. 

“I don’t see it going back to normal,” said Leeanne Hewey, the owner of the Charles Inn in downtown Bangor. The hotel installed plastic sheets to assist in the prevention of spreading germs. “The plastic shields will remain up and we will continue six-foot social distancing… The guards are still going to be there and masks aren’t going away anytime soon.”  

When the pandemic hit Maine back in the spring of 2020, the Charles Inn shut down for two weeks except to healthcare workers. In this shut down time, Hewey engaged in some remodeling and in the process built an entirely new front desk and purchased decor that would match the mandated precautions by the Center for Disease Control. One of her other properties, Vacationland Inns, only rented rooms for essential workers in the area and instituted contactless check-in services. 

For Hewey and her husband, the beginning wasn’t as difficult as it was for many other local businesses. “In the beginning, it was easy for us to get prepared; I used to work in FEMA and my husband was the fire chief in Manchester for 17 years. [We were] always a few steps ahead of the pandemic. Thinking about it before it happened. It was always challenging but not as difficult for us due to our prior experience.” 

Restaurants in some ways have been the most affected by the regulations following the arrival of COVID-19. For months many dining rooms closed in favor of a take-out only model. 

“We’ve had to adapt in many ways,” said Zack Richardson, owner of Harvest Moon Deli. With several locations scattered throughout the greater Bangor area, Harvest Moon created a curbside takeout option for their customers and adjusted how they do business. 

Harvest Moon Deli rearranged the inside of their locations to allow social distancing for dine-in customers. “[We] moved from a 50% dine-in, 50% takeout model to a 5% dine-in, 95% takeout model,” explained Richardson. “[We] partnered with delivery apps to help generate revenue, albeit with commissions there is little profit left post-purchase.”

The deli expanded their personal protective equipment to provide extra measures in an effort to keep their staff safe and healthy as well. This included installing plexiglass barriers to provide an extra level of protection between customers and employees. “[We] limit staff working with other staff [and] try to staff in teams to limit potential exposure between groupings of staff,” said Richardson.

In the middle of March when the state should’ve been defrosting and starting to open back up for the tourist season that usually provides Maine with a nice economic boost, businesses were shutting their doors to patrons. The closure was performed as a safety measure to determine what protocol and procedures needed to be put in place to ensure the safety of customers and employees. 

As businesses have begun opening their doors to the public again, new regulations have come along with it. Maine businesses, along with countless others across the nation, have met this challenge head on. It’s unclear what the future holds, but the consensus is that these precautions will be here to stay for a while. The new year will no doubt bring new challenges as the pandemic remains a fluid situation, but now businesses won’t be caught off guard.

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