Open for business? Only after juggling call-outs and COVID exposures

·3 min read

Jan. 14—LEWISTON — DaVinci's Eatery announced a nine-day closure last weekend, "due to the increased spread of COVID-19 among our staff and community," and given the conversations she's had this week, Shanna Cox anticipates the Twin Cities will see more of that ahead as businesses wrestle with the omicron surge and staffing.

"I don't know of any business that isn't on a daily frequency monitoring their own call-outs, their own staff exposures, their own child care call-outs related to exposure, and doing the mental math of how many more they can handle before they have to put the sign up," said Cox, president and CEO of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Japanese restaurant Sea40 announced via social media on Jan. 2 that it would move to takeout-only for the week last week due to a staffing shortage. Community Credit Union closed the lobby in its Auburn branch Monday this week for the same reason and reopened it the next day.

HospitalityMaine President and CEO Matt Lewis said Friday that it's important the public not jump to conclusions when they see a temporary closure — it doesn't necessarily mean there's been an exposure.

A Maine-based pizza chain told him it closed a location last week due to short-staffing and stayed closed this week due to a remodel.

Similarly, a sign on the door of Denny's in Auburn on Friday indicated it was closed for a kitchen renovation and didn't reference staffing or COVID.

Lewis has had an uptick in calls this week from restaurants and lodging facilities asking about procedures for closing. Before this latest surge, they were already grappling with a workforce shortage in Maine, some limiting the numbers of hours a day or days a week they were open.

"Part of the story has to be the resiliency of Maine businesses," he said. "Any sort of positive discussion, which I think there is plenty to be had, revolves around the high work ethic and the sort of doggedness of Maine businesses and certainly their staff. When we come out of this — and we will — there is every reason to believe that this summer will be as busy or busier than last summer."

Cox encouraged customers to be patient: If a business is open and service is slow, it's trying its best.

"And for the doors you walk up to and there's a 'sorry we're closed until' sign on the door, assume that they're doing everything they absolutely can," she said. "At the very least, please do approach those businesses with a large amount of empathy and patience. They're losing (money) every day that they're closed, and it hurts them. It's been a long two years."

Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said Friday that the best way to support Lewiston business is to get vaccinated, get the booster shot and mask up.

"Working together to keep everyone safe — and our businesses and schools open — is the only way forward," he said.

DaVinci's Eatery is closed until Jan. 17, according to its Facebook post. An attempt to reach owner Jules Patry on Friday was unsuccessful.

Customers took the news well with comments that included, "We will be here when you reopen! Thanks for your concern for our community and your employees."

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