‘Never seen this’: Doing business in Wiscasset amid pandemic

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 8:30am

    “Big Al” Cohen said Saturday, the only panic buying he has seen remotely close to what the coronavirus has caused was the 1970s gas shortage. “This, to me, is that, multiplied” because it isn’t one thing being bought up, “it’s everything. I’ve never seen this.” 

    And it isn’t a boon for his Big Al’s Super Values on Route 1; people were coming in for the hand sanitizer and toilet paper, but could only buy so many: Up to six hand sanitizers Friday, and down to two on Saturday to help the stock last. When it runs out, Cohen expects it to be out a while because the price for him to buy the product has multiplied. He only wanted to sell it for $1 because that’s what it’s worth.

    One woman wanted to buy all the toilet paper in the store for her and her husband, Cohen said. But the limit was 10 rolls. “Otherwise, somebody’s going to have 150 rolls in their closet for the two of them, and other families won’t have any. People are just panicked. They’re getting very scared.”

    Cohen is also seeing the change as a consumer. He said Sam’s Club was out of meat when he went. 

    He said the staff at Big Al’s was using hand sanitizer and wiping surfaces. “We’re disinfecting everything like everybody else.” He said of the global pandemic, “It’s terrible. I’m worried like everybody else.” He said he talked to a plumber who was helping people open their summer homes early.

    At her Main Street store that re-opened Friday, In the Clover co-owner Kasey McNamara said besides the hand sanitizing and surface cleaning, she has put away the test containers of skin care, perfume and makeup.

    So far, so great on business. Friday, McNamara saw a lot of familiar faces and some new ones. “It was great ... And we’ve had a great day so far today,” she said inside the shop Saturday afternoon. “So I’m cautiously optimistic.” She’s had people who’ve come in and not mentioned the pandemic, and others who have. “I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by what people have said as far as just being happy that we’re open and this being a nice place to be.”

    That was customer Terri Wells’ sentiment. She said she was very excited and felt, with the month March has been, it was important to do something enjoyable, in the new downtown. “If you open, I will come,” she said about her hopes for the season.

    Friday night, McNamara did a Facebook post detailing the store’s measures and offering shopping from home. “I just wanted people to just please know that we are taking preventative measures, that we take it seriously.”

    Asked about adjustments in her life during the pandemic, McNamara, of Westport Island, said she and husband and business co-owner Jay McNamara were thinking ahead if school closed at Great Salt Bay in Damariscotta for son Oliver, 14, and daughter Tessa, 12. And wherever she is, the pandemic has her “probably being more aware of surfaces in general, and that I don’t actually need to touch everything. I can just look with my eyes.”

    Responding to emailed questions Friday,Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce Chair and Davison Construction owner Chip Davison said, “People, local or from away will want things to do as the good weather comes. We may or (may) not see a drop in numbers. On the local level things are open, please support their efforts. Think safe, play safe,” Davison said. 

    WACC and other Midcoast chambers “are actively watching, listening, planning and re-planning events. Small outside events from now into the spring are the best. People are expected to do more staycations like we saw with high fuel prices. Think all of the great wonders from Kittery to Eastport (and) don’t forget, plenty of our restaurants and food services offer take-out, so keep that in mind to help these businesses stay open.”