In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, downtown Bangor and its businesses are having to adapt to new regulations while trying to stay open to the public. As many downtown locations serve as walk-up shops where customers may enjoy browsing at their leisure, due to a recent regulation enacted on March 24, small businesses are limiting their face-to-face interaction with the public and turning to phone and online sales, or curbside take-out and walk-up orders.
To try and adjust to these new types of sales, businesses have acquired 15-minute parking for customers, a few spots of which are immediate to Bagel Central, a staple casual downtown eatery.
Scott Bryson, the owner of Bagel Central, notes both the struggles of planning for the future and the importance of working hard for small victories now that regulations are changing so quickly.
“Every day has been different. Our general business model is community dining — all of our tables are put together to force different demographics to sit with each other, which was a key element of our business that was eliminated overnight,” Bryson said. “We’ve gone to curbside, takeout, delivery and lowered our delivery charges, and adopted more of a grocery-store mentality — our production of loaves of bread and bagels, advertising deli meats and cheeses … we’ve been trying to implement that more. Luckily, we have the flexibility to do that.”
By using Facebook as one of their larger social media platforms, Bagel Central has made daily posts to keep customers up to speed, advertising various types of bread, pastries and daily specials, and warmly thanking those who have contributed to downtown businesses during this unusual time.
Regardless of this support, businesses have needed to make difficult calls for both the sake of their employees and the future of their establishments. Bryson noted that, though legislation has passed, the government aide has not immediately followed the written word.
“I’ve worked here 25 years, and most of my staff [have] been here over ten years,” Bryson said. “We’re not the typical restaurant where people are here three months and then they leave … Those [people] are your family — you spend more time with them than your own family. You care about them, they all have families, mortgages.”
Of course, these changes in downtown commerce affect not only the restaurant scene but also the arts and educational programs in the downtown area.
Just a few doors down from Bagel Central, Gibran Graham, the owner of The Briar Patch bookshop, realizes the impact his business has on the family and educational spheres of downtown Bangor, taking advantage of online sales and opportunities for community engagement. The Briar Patch is currently offering phone orders, curbside pickup and delivery to Bangor homes, all while continuing orders from their online store.
“We’re trying to make sure there [are] different options for everybody to be able to serve the community. There are obviously quite a lot of parents thrown into homeschooling situations, and some families need more material than others. We have teachers that are also trying to get their hands on books for read-alouds online for their classrooms,” Graham explains.
Along with posting regularly on Facebook and updating his online store, Graham has incorporated his regular read-aloud events online, allowing for families and their children to have access to enriching entertainment during this time of self-isolation and social distancing.
“We really just wanted to be able to continue interacting with our customers. We have a lot of people that come for our storytimes in the store and knew that people were looking for some options. It definitely gives people a little bit of a break, to have some interactivity. For kids that would normally come to our storytimes, they know our faces — it’s a little bit of normalcy for [them],” Graham says.
Soon, The Briar Patch is looking to offer live author events featuring Q&A sessions, virtual showcasing of new releases and more window display showcasing for those traveling through downtown to continue reaching out into their community.
As a space where physical community presence is crucial, the University of Maine Museum of Art (UMMA) is finding new ways to spread art and education to the downtown audience upon several closures within the University of Maine System. As a result of these closures, UMMA followed suit but allowed for the installation of weekly virtual tours and bi-weekly instructional videos showing how art is possible, if not essential, during this time.
Focusing on current visiting artists, Kat Johnson, UMMA’s senior museum educator, explains how UMMA is choosing how best to represent their current exhibitions during a time where virtual tours may be the only canvas for viewing artwork until future notice, as well as how canceled programs scheduled through April 30 will be supplemented with educational videos curated toward materials found at home.
“The galleries are focused on the visiting contemporary artist because they are only showing for a [certain] duration of time. Our permanent collection may cycle back through the public at some time, but we may not get Theresa Dunn’s solo show anytime in the near future [for example].” Johnson explained. “We want to make sure people have access to that work. As far as educational content, we want to deliver alternative content outside of a virtual tour — how we can extend the educational mission of the museum by offering up art lessons for people to be able to engage with from their home using everyday household items to be making art in a time where kids and families need to be able to have accessible art-making lessons.”
The first two videos include a gallery tour, “Teresa Dunn’s ‘Cover the Waterfront’ Virtual Tour,” covering one of four visit artists exhibiting their work, and “Studio Sessions: Lesson 1 – Coffee & Tea Ink Painting in the Sumi-e style,” featuring a Japanese technique based on meditative quick strokes and mindful observation, both found on the UMMA website with more soon to come in the following Fridays.
For more information regarding downtown Bangor businesses and the changes they have implemented to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Discover Downtown Bangor offers quick insights on how best to support local commerce.