Vacationers vs. the Virus

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 1:00pm

About this blog:

  • Frank Barnako is a seasonal resident of Wiscasset at Clarks Point on the Sheepscot River.   His career in journalism included on air and news director positions with CBS and NBC Radio and TV stations.  He was a pioneer in the Internet, helping to create and co-found MarketWatch.com where he also developed a 200-station radio network and wrote daily columns focused on the stock market, business news, and technology. Barnako describes himself as “an aspiring photographer,” whose work can be seen at frankbarnako.com<http://frankbarnako.com>. He is a member of the town’s Investment Advisory Committee. Email him at wiscasset@barnako.com.

This is the 15th year we are spending summer in Maine.  “The Way Life Should Be”. 

Except this year, it isn’t.

No question.  Dinners on lawn chairs in the driveway have replaced barbecues in the  the back yard.  Grandparents haven’t seen the kiddos for weeks.  The county fairs are all canceled.  And the bars still aren’t open.  COVID-19 is a huge problem.

Gov. Mills and everyone else has worked so hard to control the Virus. But the strategy has wrecked the tourism business. Requiring visitors to self quarantine for 14 days will do that.  Business owners told WCSH TV their sales are down 85% from last year. 

Back on Hilton Head Island, where we live the rest of the year, local businesses are also grappling with a challenge. The annual RBC Heritage golf tournament, which supports tens of millions of dollars’ worth of economic activity, was canceled in April because of COVID-19. It was rescheduled to two weeks ago. That meant lots of families and kids were vacationing on the island alongside golfers who were there to play and watch the pros.

Locals’ Facebook groups fielded complaints and criticisms about the influx of the golf fans. “They’ll bring the Virus with them.” “They’re not wearing masks. “They think because they’re on vacation they are immune.” “It’s a zoo, there are so many people.”  The same kind of worries you’ve heard Mainers voice.

In Maine, businesses are also dealing with uncertainty and losses, too. The Governor’s Pandemic policy pretty much forbid hotels, motels, inns and even AirBandBs from taking bookings until June. But they’re open now, and lots of folks are playing catch up to meet what is this challenge, like last summer’s Route 1 project.  Then, several dozen locals created Friends of Wiscasset Village. Citizens and business owners brainstormed how to make the best of the situation - and stay in business.   Old timers and new residents attended early morning meetings, shared ideas and support.

The effort and spirit I saw there persuades me that this year, with the highway construction chaos gone, the Village will be fine.  Half a dozen new businesses have added new reasons to walk the wide sidewalks.  And if Wiscasset could survive last summer’s Route 1 renovation, this little Village that can and will get through this.