Walking down Maine Street today is a different experience than many Bowdoin students may remember. Brunswick’s wide sidewalks now hold expanded outdoor dining alongside space for masked pedestrians to walk, but there is also another notable difference—there are few students grabbing gelato or biking to their favorite dinner spot.
For Mattie Daughtry, the owner of Moderation Brewing, the College’s announcement to bring only a fraction of its students back to campus was bittersweet.
“I completely understand the College’s decision. You know, we’re in a time where we really don’t know what’s around the next corner, and it’s never worth gambling with people in students’ lives,” Daughtry said in a phone interview with the Orient. “But it’s also really bitter because part of what makes Moderation and this town what it is, is the diversity and liveliness and energy that happens when the students come back.”
Though many of Brunswick’s business owners support the College’s decision, the news compounded the feeling of loss that they’ve felt since Bowdoin’s abrupt closure in mid-March.
Businesses will not only feel the absence of student patronage but also that of their parents and the alumni who normally visit during the College’s Homecoming and Family Weekends.
Mason Palmatier, one of the owners of the Little Dog Coffee Shop, estimates that 10 percent of his business comes from Bowdoin students.
“A lot of times college students that come to Little Dog find it’s a place where they will want to come to in the future when they come back to visit. This fall and winter is going to be [in the] short term [a] pretty difficult loss,” said Palmatier in a phone interview with the Orient.
Many small retail stores closed temporarily in March but have since re-opened with expanded customer options. Hatch on Maine was able to establish online ordering and curbside pick up.
Many other businesses have also adapted by offering curbside pickup, and many restaurants have adopted or expanded outdoor seating. The Brunswick Downtown Association (BDA) has worked with businesses to plan ways to utilize outdoor space on the sidewalks and help them with submitting permit applications to the town.
“The town has been wonderful to work with in terms of getting these things approved as soon as possible,” said Debora King, executive director of the BDA, in a phone interview with the Orient.
Little Dog Coffee shop started online ordering and contactless pickup services months ago, but the owners have recently also doubled outdoor dining capacity by opening a shared outdoor patio that they are sharing with their neighbor, Enoteca Athena.
Brunswick’s beloved businesses have managed to stay open with the help of federal and state loans. In addition, local businesses also had access to the “Brunswick Economic Development Loan,” established by the Brunswick Development Corporation.
Don Faulkner, the owner of Hatch, used the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to lessen some of the losses he incurred from closing his store down for two weeks.
“I did apply for one of the disaster loans, which is a straight small figure of $10,000. Seems like a lot, but it’s not a lot when you pay rent and stuff,” said Faulkner in a phone interview with the Orient.
Not all Brunswick businesses have experienced major economic setbacks since March, though. Taco the Town, a popular Mexican food truck, has seen an increase in patrons. Mr. Tuna, a mobile sushi bar with trucks in Portland, has expanded and found a new home on the sidewalks of the Brunswick Mall.
Palmatier says that Bowdoin students, alumni and other members of the community have been supporting businesses remotely. Many have bought merchandise or gift cards, which they can use at a later date.
Although Bowdoin students make up a sizable portion of revenues for many businesses, Brunswick residents make up the majority. The BDA is encouraging residents to support small local businesses.
“The money that people were planning on spending anyway, especially on travel plans, we strongly encourage them [use] to support local businesses, because we want them to be around next year at this time as well,” said King.