Nearly one year ago, Thistle Inn owners Dick and Anya Reid made the difficult decision not to open the inn and restaurant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the Thistle is set to open back up in May. The Reids were not alone in their decision to close last year as many others followed suit, businesses and competitors like Greenleaf Inn and Kaler’s Crab and Lobster House made the same call, while others decided to try and weather the storm by operating under state restrictions.
For the Reids, deciding not to open was based on uncertainties about the virus, about how restrictions might diminish the chance to break even and to give as much notice to employees as possible. Since no one could predict what the “right” decision was last year, the Reids said they could only hope everyone's decisions were the right ones for them and their staff.
Said Dick Reid, “How much money does it cost when you get shut down and you have to reopen? What are the fines going to be if you are deemed not executing a set of parameters that have been put in place that aren't definitive? … We decided we were going to stay flexible and we were going to try and choose what the long road would be instead of forcing something and taking a chance on … transferring the virus, losing money, not being able to take care of the people who have worked for you and putting them in a situation where now they can't find another (job).”
Restrictions would have limited the Thistle to 35% capacity for the restaurant and considering the added need for six feet of distancing, the business’s layout would have left even less room to seat customers. “It's an old sea captain's home, it's got intimate small dining rooms, and that's really what's made the Thistle Inn the experience that it is. You know, it's very hard to put the Thistle Inn experience in a to-go box and that was one of the things we really looked at … (So), if you take so much off the top and you start whittling it down, the margins change as you get lower and it's just the nature of the beast.”
Consumer confidence is ultimately what will bring people back not just to the Thistle, but to Boothbay Harbor, and the community’s reputation for unmatched service and the same level of competitiveness between businesses will keep people coming to the region even if only at a comparative trickle at first, Reid said. Things may not be the same as they were pre-COVID-19 and they may not be that way for another year or two, but continuing to be competitive, to work together and off one another in creating the best experience for visitors is what the Boothbay region must continue to do, said Reid.
“When I look at that, I feel like the blueprint hasn't changed for Boothbay Harbor. We were on the verge of being a dining destination and I'm not talking about the Thistle Inn – I'm talking about Boothbay Harbor … We all work with each other at one time or another and we've all respected a dish or thought something was one of the best things we've ever had … We're also not all the same and (don’t) need to be the same, what we need to be is the best of the best at what we each do individually. I just want to see that back for this community.”
Reid said observing the successes of the businesses that did stay open and keeping in touch with repeat customers has been an education on how to navigate the coming season. Some were not comfortable traveling or going out and said they would be back when it is safer. With the slow roll-out of the vaccine and the region’s proven commitment to keeping a safe environment, Reid said he thinks there will still be a season to look forward to. “That doesn't mean there aren't a different set of parameters for this season set up for us to work within. But if we continue to be the best at what we do in this business and in this community – and I'm talking about everyone – if we put our best foot forward and we say we're going to keep going and keep doing what we do, we also have an opportunity to become somebody who is more placed on the map.”
“The camaraderie and respect in this town between the guys and girls and what they do in this industry is great … I want to see backed up traffic coming by this place at one-o'clock in the afternoon, I want to see the parades going on every holiday – I want to see that all again. I hope and pray that's what ends up happening and it would be a benefit to all of us. And competition is what made us what we were: damn good. So, I don't think that blueprint's changed. We're all good at what we do and we all push each other and I want to continue to see that. It's important to me.”