STATEWIDE – It’s been nearly a year since COVID-19 changed life in Maine as we know it, and small businesses continue to feel the effects.
“I think a lot of people are stunned. I really think that we kind of thought maybe this would go six to eight months, but certainly that we wouldn’t be in the same position as we were last March,” said Gretchen Wilson, the executive director of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce.
As the pandemic continues, so do the struggles for small businesses.
“This isn’t something that’s behind us. It still is clearly in front of us, and will be for a while yet,” said Dana Connors, the president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.
Vaccinations are increasing, and coronavirus case numbers and statistics in Maine are improving, but restaurants, shops and others in the hospitality sector are still operating under restrictions.
State chamber of commerce leaders say they remain focused on ways to help.
“The loss that these businesses encountered is astronomical,” said Denise Buzzelli, the executive director of the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce. “So the support needs to continue.”
At the federal level, lawmakers are considering various relief packages, including one by Senator Susan Collins and other Republican colleagues, expanding access to low interest loans.
“All of that is very helpful, very significant, and very much needed,” said Connors of efforts to extend relief at the federal level.
In the Piscataquis County region, Buzzelli says many businesses didn’t take advantage of previous relief. The chamber, working alongside others in the region, compiled a list of resources for businesses to get involved this time around.
“We really want our business owners, even if they don’t think they’ll qualify, or they took advantage of a program in 2020 and thought that’s it. That is not it. Even if you took advantage in 2020, there’s still help available in 2021,” said Buzzelli.
Chamber leaders in the Ellsworth area are focused on employee shortages brought on by the pandemic, as well as expanding relief access for newer businesses that haven’t been able to get aid.
“A part of what makes our communities a community are those smaller businesses, those unique places that we can go,” said Wilson.
Leaders say local residents can also provide their own version of relief.
“Maine is a big state geographically speaking, but we’re a small community in so many ways,” Connors said.
“The best way we can keep these folks in business is to keep shopping,” said Buzzelli. “Keep eating at your local restaurants.”
“It’s up to us, the community members, the consumers to really pay attention to that,” said Wilson.
To contact the chamber of commerce in your area, a list of all chambers throughout the state can be found HERE.