Small businesses deserve our support

Jul 23, 2020

We’ve heard a lot about the fragility of Maine’s economy. An Oxford Economics analysis cites Maine as the state most likely to experience severe economic fallout from the pandemic due to its older demographics, high percentage of small businesses and reliance on tourism and retail operations. Coastal Maine in particular depends on tourism and the boost it gives to year-round and seasonal businesses alike.

Indeed, Maine businesses, particularly lodging, restaurants and independent retail, have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated closures and restrictions. Many had to lay off workers and some are finding it difficult to bring them back now that things are picking up a bit. Enhanced unemployment benefits, child-care issues and health concerns are among the factors keeping some Mainers from immediately rejoining the workforce.

For the week ending June 27, the Maine Department of Labor fielded about 3,000 new claims for state unemployment insurance, and an additional 2,200 initial claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). That is on top of the approximately 62,300 weekly certifications, or continued claims, filed that week for state unemployment and about 28,000 weekly certifications filed under PUA. Between March 15 and June 27, the Maine DOL has received about 165,000 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 74,600 for the federal program. Some businesses have closed; others are teetering at the edge.

Maine’s economy is vulnerable, but individual businesses have exhibited incredible strength. By adapting to current conditions and pivoting to serve customers in new ways, these businesses have demonstrated their resilience and ability to bend and not break. Some have changed their products and services while others have tweaked the delivery models. Some have quite literally taken their business to the streets, carving outdoor dining or retail space out of sidewalks and parking spaces. Customers have been introduced to and cheerfully guided through new ordering and payment platforms. Regular old windows became pick-up windows. Auto dealerships pick up your car for service and sanitize it too.

These businesses are fighting with everything they have to stay afloat. As they grapple with meeting new guidelines (and the costs associated with them) while bringing in less money, another obstacle arises: cranky customers. Last month, the Retail Association of Maine, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association launched a statewide campaign urging consumers to heed safety precautions and “practice kindness toward workers and each other.” The campaign’s name, “Let’s Be Kind,” sounds like something for a grade school audience, but there are adults that need to heed the message. Picking a fight with a store clerk about mask wearing is bullying, not standing up for your rights.

Small businesses make our community strong and they have earned our respect. Let’s show it by adapting with them.

Reprinted with permission from the Ellsworth American.

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