Harbor businesses this summer: Busy, challenging, requiring patience

Fri, 09/03/2021 - 8:00am

    As Labor Day approached, the Boothbay Register reached out to several businesses in Boothbay Harbor to see how they fared this summer. The unanimous answer was that business had been extremely busy, bringing both opportunities and challenges for business owners and employees.

    “Absolutely over the top,” was Bill Kirby’s response. Kirby said it couldn’t have been a better summer for his business, Enchantments. “We’ve been swamped, starting in May.” He said he thought it would taper off after July 4 but he estimates that his business this summer has tripled over 2019.

    The same seemed to be the case for restaurants and the quick ramp up this spring was echoed by The Thistle Inn’s Mary Lou Koskela who said 99% of the business she saw this summer was from guests who made reservations. “We expected it to start slow but it started off with a bang,” she said. “We thought it was people making up for lost time but it didn’t stop.”

    To give staff a respite, The Thistle Inn decided to close Sundays and Mondays, for the first six to eight weeks. After that, it was closed on Mondays.

    A lack of staff caused Eventide Specialties owner Kim Martin to close on Sundays and Mondays. The store had offered only curb service last year but opened to foot traffic May 28. “It was surreal,” she said. “People came in throngs and we couldn’t keep things on the shelves.” She said the business had a “stellar year” for sandwiches and salads and would have exceeded 2019 sales if Eventide had been open seven days each week.

    When reached at Sweet Bay, former owner Ken Rayle said the town parking lots pretty much told the story. “The parking lots filled up much earlier. In previous years, there would be empty spots during the morning, but this summer they were full every day by 9 a.m.” Rayle said the store saw more people than in 2019 with an increase in both foot traffic and the amount spent. 

    Summer business at Sherman’s was “phenomenal,” owner Jeff Curtis said. With sales higher than ever, Curtis said, “The Boothbay Harbor store beat all sales numbers from 2019. We were fastening our seat belts trying to catch up.”

    At the head of the harbor, Brady’s owner Jen Mitchell said she didn’t remember the town being this busy since the 1970s and said the business saw many more day trippers than in previous years. “We had to stop putting people on the wait list at 7:15,” she added.

    Balmy Days owner Bill Campbell said his business this summer was “pretty good.” June was way above July which unfortunately had 22 days of rain in the afternoon. Campbell said August was a little better than usual and some visitors to the region took several different boat trips if they were staying overnight.

    Business owners and their employees had to use more patience as their customers showed less.

    A shortage in staff combined with the number of visitors created longer wait times in stores and restaurants and some owners mentioned unpleasant exchanges with customers. While Koskela said The Thistle Inn hadn’t really experienced angry customers, she heard from other businesses that there were issues “almost nightly ... people had no patience.”

    Inside Eventide, Martin maintained a face mask mandate. “We had a lot of push back. It got crazy as summer went on. People would walk out of the store because we asked them to wear a face mask.”

    Mitchell said Brady’s had a couple of customers who felt entitled and “that the rules didn’t apply to them.” She also said the restaurant wasn’t staffed to do the amount of business that came in, so she decided to close the restaurant two days each week so the staff wouldn’t burn out.

    Overall, Mitchell, said, “We made adjustments every day, on the fly. This summer has been the most challenging I’ve ever had in this business.”