As businesses on Maine Street round off a fall unlike any other, many of them must quickly shift gears to plan for the upcoming winter—a season which will bring cold weather, holiday shoppers and the return of many Bowdoin students to Brunswick.
While retailers such as Nest have not taken a significant economic hit, owner John Faulkner has noticed a change in the gift shop’s customer base and in the frequency of visitors.
“We have fewer people, but [we do have] people that come in with more purpose,” Faulkner said in a phone interview with the Orient. “Our sales figures have been actually fairly strong.”
During the onset of the coronavirus outbreaks in the spring, Faulkner made the decision not to offer curbside pickup or online ordering. He reasoned that doing so would have compromised the mission of Nest.
“[Nest is] a store that you want to come in, and you want to see a lot and you want to choose among your options,” Faulkner said. “Unless you have an online business, you’re really not going to make [curbside pickup] worthwhile to do.”
While Nest shut down in the early stages of social distancing regulations, Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections, which had been fulfilling and delivering online orders even before the pandemic, is offering curbside pickup in addition to delivery.
“We did well with cubside,” Laurie Peavey-Ross, manager of Wilbur’s, said in a phone interview with the Orient. “It’s more difficult shopping that way, but when you have regular customers, they know what they want.”
Wilbur’s is currently open for in-person business, but with the holiday season fast approaching, Ross believes that their online shop will be especially helpful for fulfilling orders while still complying with CDC guidelines.
“We are encouraging a slower, longer Christmas season,” Ross said. “In other words, don’t come in at the last minute—try picking things out online.”
While the holidays are usually a significant source of revenue for Nest, the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Maine will be a hurdle in the coming weeks. Faulkner is continuing to refresh his stock for the holidays, but he does not feel optimistic about meeting the sales benchmarks of previous winters. Faulkner said that he is expecting a decline in visits and revenue, and is thus adjusting buying according to those expectations.
While retailers are preparing for the holiday season, food vendors are concerned with staying connected to the Brunswick community during the winter months. Jordan Rubin, owner of Mr. Tuna, a food truck serving sushi on the Brunswick Mall, has been pleasantly surprised by the truck’s performance during its inaugural year.
“In a short period of time, we’ve been able to build a pretty solid, loyal following of local people,” Rubin said in a phone interview with the Orient. “We weren’t really sure what we’re going to get into when we decided to go in there, and they’ve really embraced us.”
While Mr. Tuna’s customer base is mostly Brunswick locals and weekend tourists, Rubin hopes to expand its reach to Bowdoin students as they return to campus for the spring semester.
“We’re definitely starting to see more students now,” Rubin said. “I think it’s gonna take a little bit of time to build it up, but we are.”
The Great Impasta has also been thinking of the Bowdoin community as they plan for the winter. Owner Leyna Valek believes that some of the restaurant’s new menu items will be especially attractive to Bowdoin students looking to eat out while complying with social distancing protocols on campus.
“One of the things we’re adding in soon are family dinners for our party pickup menu, which can be ordered [on the same] day,” Valek said in a phone interview with the Orient. “That would be great for folks coming back to college and are in their rooms—you can order them quickly and feed four.”
The Great Impasta has also recently begun delivering along with fulfilling their usual pickup orders, and, while Rubin had initially planned to shut down Mr. Tuna during the winter months, he is now also thinking of ways to fulfill orders outside of the food truck.
“We are weighing options for how we can find a way to get people of Brunswick food over the winter, whether it’s doing pop-ups inside of restaurants up there or doing pickup,” Rubin said. “That’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
As these businesses adapt and innovate in response to COVID-19 constraints, some invariably notice the absence of Bowdoin students.
“Of course [they’ve been absent],” Ben Gatchell, owner of Dog Bar Jim: The Coffee Shop, said in an email to the Orient. “Though the loyal and hardy ones have continued coming by.”
“We do miss the interactions with Bowdoin,” Faulkner echoed. “There isn’t a sense that we’re totally disconnected from the activity of the school, but it’s a very different feel with the amount of students that we see in here.”
Despite the tumult of the last several months, Gatchell is thankful for the support of the Brunswick community and encourages students and community members to continue to be cooperative and responsible.
“Continue to support the local businesses, and be empathic [and] patient with mature expectations,” Gatchell said. “Life is complex, more so in the current moment—being neighborly has never had so much value.”