Maine Businesses Dependent on Tourists Hope for Strong Labor Day Weekend

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on businesses across the U.S., including in places like Old Orchard Beach, Maine, that rely on tourism

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Maine is welcoming visitors back to beaches and businesses this Labor Day weekend as businesses that rely on tourists hope to cap off an unusual summer on a high note.

As the calendar shows what's left of the season is dwindling while the coronavirus pandemic wears on, tourists and the people who depend on them agree this summer was different than any they'd experienced before.

There were no Canadian tourists, who normally make up a big percentage of Old Orchard Beach visitors.

In addition, the Maine Turnpike Authority said its year-to-date traffic through July was down 24.8 percent. For the month of August, traffic was down by 22.4 percent.

"It's nowhere near our normal, stereotypical Old Orchard Beach summer," said Grahm Kwasnick, a shift supervisor at Café 64 on Old Orchard Street.

Kwasnick told NECN and NBC10 Boston that in addition to adapting to sell coffee and baked goods online, curbside and socially distanced, the store moved into its present location from a building up the street at the same time.

"We had no idea what to do with the amount of space we had indoors," he explained of the initial process of parsing out the move.

Overall, Kwasnick said the summer up until Labor Day had met his expectation that it would be an unusual season.

"It's definitely been challenging in a lot of ways … It's also pushed us to be a better business in general," he said, adding that "survivable" was "a good way to put it" when describing how the shop fared.

Other businesses, Kwasnick says, have not been as fortunate.

In particular, he said the closure of Port City Music Hall in Portland was a sign that music venues would be among those most harmed by months on end of no customers at all.

"I really feel for the businesses that need people physically inside," he said.

For families, a slight dip in foot traffic has not been entirely bad.

Sarah and Bill Nichol of New Hampshire were visiting Old Orchard Beach for the first time this weekend and said a lack of large crowds, and perhaps a few more square inches of beach space, were welcome.

"We've been hunkered down since the beginning of February," said Bill Nichol. "Having a day like today actually gives us some type of normalcy."

As for what happens after Labor Day, few could envision that.

Kwasnick says he expects the café could continue as it has with all of its changes, but he was unsure if winter business would be steady. He said it's not clear whether every store in the area would be able to open back up in 2021.

"It's going to maybe be harder, but maybe more people will come out," he said.

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