Virtual Comfort

Josh Tate considers himself an introvert. As such, self-quarantine doesn’t strike him as too bad. There’s a part of him that really doesn’t mind being in isolation. But he is also what he calls a “professional extrovert.” Tate is a pastor at State Road Advent Christian Church in Mapleton, Maine. “I think being a pastor is irreducibly relational,” Tate says.

Rapid policy changes in response to COVID-19 have caused upheaval in most sectors of life. Churches and other houses of worship find themselves in particularly strange circumstances.

State Road held its last normal Sunday service on March 15. During the service, Tate told worshippers that the church planned to keep meeting. By the middle of the next week, however, plans had totally changed. State Road canceled all church meetings.

Dale Charles is co-pastor of Ignite Church of Lancaster in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ignite Church is a small, urban congregation. Charles described a similar change of plans. “When the coronavirus started coming, we decided we were going to have church anyway,” Charles said. “The next Sunday, we had double attendance because of other churches shutting down.” Charles hadn’t expected that surge. By the next Sunday, they too had canceled services.

Dale Charles at his new pulpit.

Many churches have started to livestream their services. Ignite Church worshippers have met via YouTube Live. The technology was glitchy at times. Lags and pauses complicated their simple Bible study. Charles wasn’t very happy with the setup.

State Road is much larger than Ignite Church. State Road has more resources available. The church recently spent around $2,000 to improve its streaming setup.

Sunday services are only a small part of church life. Pastoral visitation cannot continue. Children’s clubs are canceled. Pastors cannot meet with people they are advising. Church buildings sit empty. In times of upheaval, many people seek help from the church. In this situation, they can’t. At least, they can’t do it in traditional ways.

Charles has started calling and texting his church members regularly. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment for him, but he wants to keep checking in. He feels that he hasn’t cultivated online relationships very well in the past. He is trying to quickly strengthen his digital communication skills. “I’ve tended to see technology as a business tool, and not great for relationships,” Charles said. He’s trying to be more personable in texts and calls.

Tate has joined Facebook. He is using his statuses and posts to stay connected with his church members. He is doing much more phone conversation than before. In the absence of children’s clubs, he is using Facebook to encourage parents to fill these roles with their children. Tate sees these measures as ways to tide the congregation over. He looks forward to seeing his parishioners in person again. “My job is to be in relationships with people,” Tate said. “That’s made very difficult by isolation.”

Tate’s job itself is in an unusual position. “I want to work hard and earn my living – and I can’t do my job,” Tate said. As a full-time pastor, he has nothing else to fall back on. Tate has encouraged church members to consider redirecting their usual giving to needy members of the community instead of to the church. State Road also continues to employ its janitors. They now clean the empty building.

As co-pastor of a small church, Charles also works as an auto mechanic to support himself. This business is considered essential, but it has slowed down. Charles hopes to take this extra time to connect one-on-one with his church members.

Both pastors see hope in the situation. Charles senses a new thoughtfulness in his city. He hopes that he can use his extra time to help people. And even in uncertain times, Tate feels support by his community. “I think people are extending a lot of grace because of the current situation,” he said. It is the hope of both pastors that they can still bless their communities. They believe there is a purpose even in this crisis. All we have to do is find it.

Murder in Millinocket

A Millinocket man died after a shooting that occurred on Sunday,  March 15, 2020. Cameron James Pelkey, 23, was tragically shot during an altercation before officials could get involved. He died days later at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where he had been treated. The incident took place in a Millinocket home at 308B Penobscot Ave., where Pelkey was being held hostage along with another man and a woman.

Pelkey was life flighted to Bangor after being shot. The other two hostages were taken out of harm’s way as law enforcement apprehended the shooter. The small town of Millinocket is left wondering how something like this could happen.

“It’s messed up. I think I heard the gunshot from my house. I didn’t think anything cynical was going on when I first heard it,” Kyle Cocoran, who was a former friend of Pelkey, said.

The shooter was 45-year-old Jason Mulligan, who lived in Bangor before the incident. Mulligan is being held at the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor in connection with Pelkey’s death. He is being charged with murder now that the victim has died and currently is facing up to life in prison.

Pictured above is the shooter, Jason Mulligan.

Pelkey’s last good deed was carried out Thursday, March 19. It was always his decision to donate life so that others might have a chance to live, so his organs were donated to those in need.

Many are mourning the loss of young Cameron Pelkey’s life, from his family of blood or by bond to the people he worked with and surrounded himself with daily.

“I used to work with him a few years back. Cameron was a good guy. I can’t believe someone would set out to hurt him,”  Kyle Cocoran said.

The motive in Pelkey’s death is still officially undetermined. The town hopes to heal from this great loss. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, funeral arrangements are being withheld for the time being. The family would like to remember Pelkey’s contentment and peaceful lifestyle along with his sense of humor. Pelkey’s friends will remember  a caring soul who was always there when times were tough.

“If you wish to do something in memory of Cameron, please consider donating blood or becoming an organ donor at RegisterMe.org,” the Pelkey family said.

Victim, Cameron Pelkey.

 

The Museum in Your Living Room

Maine winters are long, cold and snowy. They are known to keep people inside for long enough. But now, people across the state are asked to stay indoors just a little bit longer.

Spring is here in northern New England. But that’s what the calendar says. Like the rest of the country, Maine is fighting the COVID–19 pandemic in as many ways as possible. This means state orders for closing of schools, restaurants and non-essential businesses.

These closings don’t surprise anyone at this point. Everyone in Maine has been asked to stay home. Mainers must find new ways to entertain themselves. They have TV, social media, puzzles, board games or even moving furniture around. These are good options to have. But some people want more. They want to be able to look at something beautiful. Or look at challenging things. Or just bask in the presence of great art. But how can they do these things? Simple. The Portland Museum of Art’s entire collection is available online. It’s free. And it is made for times like these.

The PMA’s website, PortlandMuseum.org, clearly states that the museum is closed to the public. The website explains why it’s closed and how long this could last. The homepage has more than news. There is lots to read and watch. There are even some art activities for the whole family. These things are all new to the website. They are thanks to the communications team at the PMA. This team worked quickly to bring these things to the public.

Digging deeper, visitors find the whole PMA collection is free for their browsing. And the best part is that the collection has been digital, and free to view this way, for years.

In 2017, the PMA underwent a period known as “Your Museum Reimagined.” During early 2017, the PMA closed to remodel its spaces. It shuffled the galleries, added more space for art and improved the PMA Store. Around this time the museum also printed a book of highlights from its collection. The other major part of this work was bringing the collection online. The collection was brought online to prepare for the events of 2017. Thanks to these efforts, the collection has been accessible online since 2016.

This digital collection is a point of pride for the PMA. Robin Richardson, a painter and resident of Portland, is one of many people who appreciate this digital collection. “There’s a generosity in having the whole collection available. It’s great.”

Finding the collection online is easy. Visitors first go to the museum’s website, PortlandMusuem.org. Then, they select “Things to See” from the menu in the upper right corner. Then they select “Collections” from the drop-down menu. This brings users to the collections’ homepage. Users find it directly at Collections.PortlandMuseum.org.

Once on the collections’ homepage, visitors learn that, “It would take nearly 10 years of constant gallery rotations to see everything in the museum…” And that the collection has “…over 18,000 artworks, ranging from Andy Warhol and Winslow Homer to Louise Nevelson and Claude Monet.”

Visitors to the online collection can view groups of artworks. Some of the groups include new art, highlights or art on view. If selecting one of these galleries doesn’t satisfy, visitors can also search the entire 18,000 piece collection.

Robin Richardson enjoys this search function. She says, “I like that I can search by artist. It’s how I learned that the PMA has art from one of my favorite artists, Helen Frankenthaler.” This function allows users to search by artist, medium, period or title. Browsing this way provides countless options for visitors to curate their own art exhibition from the comfort of their own home.

The current state of social distancing and mandatory isolation gives an uncertain feeling that touches every part of society. But in this time, the PMA’s online collection is a beacon of peace and a welcome break from these trying times.

Capturing COVID-19 in a Digital World

In a time where only essential businesses are running and continually adapting, the internet is our entertainment essential. Scrolling through, we find mask selfies, virtual concerts and challenges. Social media have allowed many to stay connected with others and informed during this time, without the harm of spreading COVID-19. Even legally, social media are the only way to stay in contact with many.

Businesses have adapted to show influencers at home with their products and ways to incorporate new things into our routines. Other businesses are using the resource to pray for the well-being of their customers and keep them updated with information. Sports and celebrities have had to become innovative with their daily posts.

“I miss seeing sports posts the most from social media. Being a sports fan has definitely made this whole thing a lot tougher when sports were canceled,” Chad Eades said. Eades is an active social media user. Eades said many sports accounts are showing highlights from games years ago to stay active with followers. “At a time when all major sports are canceled, you would think a sports blogging and media site (Barstool) would be struggling. But the creativity of Barstool allowed them to find different forms of content, some of it not even sports related, to keep their fans engaged,” Eades said.

With everyone home, we all have the same base. Creativity is needed to generate content for posts. “At the beginning you started to see less posts with friends and more selfies. But now almost a month in, people are getting creative with what they are posting. A lot of people now are posting pictures with their friends or vacations captioning that they miss it,” Eades said. Throwbacks of old pictures, items and videos are currently popular on newsfeeds. People are taking this time to reflect on their freedom outside their homes and think maybe they took that time for granted. Apps such as Tik Tok have become increasingly popular with people at home. Creators such as the ones on Youtube and Tik Tok have time to produce memes. Developing memes from home can capture a realistic connection to viewers compared to television shows or movies right now.

A typical social media post during COVID-19.

Social media have been tools for these times. They have also created negativity. The media have turned to focus on the virus with not a lot else happening. “Everything I see online at this point that people post pretty much has to do with the coronavirus. There’s a sense of negativity and fear everywhere you look and the celebrities who do the stay-at-home PSAs are just obnoxious,” Kyle Teto, a college student, said. Updates on delivered supplies, new regulations or statistics updates may seem helpful. But they can cause others anxiety. “I honestly don’t blame anybody for how they’re dealing with this crisis. It’s hard to come to terms with,” said Teto.

Rants on social media shaming people, worry and fear for the future are extremely common. Users on social media attempt to show off their lifestyle or brag about certain things to their followers. Pictures of people hoarding supplies or breaking violations to visit with friends or grabbing fame by coughing on food in stores have been popular on newsfeeds. “It’s aggravating to see people not following guidelines and continuing to go outside and hang out with their friends posted online,” Eades said.

Many were forced to go online to stay connected and maintain their regular routines. “Social media can help fill the void of not being able to spend time with people in person. But at the same time, it also highlights how it’s not really a substitute,” Teto said.

Social media don’t show any signs of not adapting to our lifestyle. “It shows that no matter what’s going on in the world, people will still find stuff to post on social media,” Eades said.

What ‘Being Essential’ Really Means

Since its first diagnosis in Wuhan, China, in December of 2019, COVID-19 has spread across the globe. Many states in the U.S. are now taking steps to slow the spread of the virus. One such step has been closing any non-essential businesses. Maine Governor Janet Mills issued one such executive order on March 25, 2020, saying that non-essential businesses must close for a minimum of 14 days.

But what does that mean for the essential businesses? Mark Draper, executive director of Aroostook Waste Solutions, runs one such business. “Without the landfills open, public waste would have nowhere to go,” Draper said. He runs both the Tri-Community Landfill in Fort Fairfield and the Presque Isle Landfill. The next closest landfill is in Houlton, an hour south.

One of Draper’s worries is what would happen if his employees get sick. “We have 10 employees total between Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield. If we even lose two, we would have a hard time staying open,” Draper said. Draper went on to explain that before there were any state-required precautions, he had already implemented some changes to protect his staff. “The public remains in their cars when interacting with staff, and no one goes into our offices or scale houses,” Draper said. “We are also only allowing those with pre-paid permits to use the facilities. No new permits means no contact with money.”

The other problem Draper has had to face was determining the appropriate response if one of his employees did get the virus. “If one employee calls in sick with COVID-19 symptoms, does that mean the person he worked with the day before needs to go home? I don’t know,” Draper said. He explained that while most of his employees are healthy, there are a few in the ‘at-risk’ age bracket. “I just hope nothing happens. But then again, hope is not a strategy.”

Another essential business is A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital. Within the past several weeks, numerous changes have been made to departments across the facility. All non-emergent appointments have been canceled or rescheduled. Some departments have closed altogether. Visitation has been limited to only one pre-determined visitor per patient.

The Main Entrance of Northern Light A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital, one of only two entrances open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Sherry Beaulieu is the manager of many different departments and services. One of them is the Spiritual Care Department. “Our chaplains used to do daily rounds with the patients and had meetings with family members. Now, they stay home and are on call for emergent needs,” Beaulieu said. “They call in daily to see if there are any special requests from patients or even the staff. We sometimes have more requests from staff members than patients. But now, we can’t provide the same level of comfort.”

Beaulieu explained that there are ideas she and her supervisors are working on to see if they can provide some type of support. “We are considering getting a computer and speaker system set up so that patients can have Zoom meetings with the chaplains. We are also planning on doing daily phone calls to the patient rooms if we can’t get that to work,” Beaulieu said. “As for the staff, the house chapel is large enough to have one-on-one appointments and still maintain appropriate distancing. That’s something we’re looking into, too,” Beaulieu said.

One thing that both Draper and Beaulieu expressed was the uncertainty of how long they are going to have to work like this. “The hospital are making changes that go to the end of May. But who knows if they’ll have to extend into June?” Beaulieu said. As for Draper, he said that he’ll find ways to stay open. “If too many employees need to stay home for quarantine, we’re prepared to close one of the landfills and have all waste brought to the other. We’ll figure it out.”

The New Normal for Students Like Me

As a senior in college, I had a lot of plans and expectations for this spring semester. Plans for movie dates and bowling nights with friends. Going dress shopping for our senior formal. Leaving the dining hall to go pick up our caps and gowns for graduation from the campus store. Unfortunately, those plans changed due to the global pandemic brought on by the COVID-19 virus.

Those plans have now become dreams. The reality we are all living in consists of stay-at-home orders, staying six feet apart if you do go outside or going to work if you are considered essential. Schools and businesses are closed and the streets are often quite empty compared to a month and a half ago.

When I watch the news or articles online, the headlines are almost always related to COVID-19 or the many executive orders being signed across the country. Social media platforms are filled with celebrities trying to entertain fans or people posting what their new normal is. For someone who has anxiety or is a hypochondriac, the continual waves of fear and uncertainty are a lot to handle.

I am one such person. In the fall of 2019, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Barely five months later, a global pandemic starts and turns my life upside down. My friends left in a rush, with only a few days’ notice of the school shutting down. When your friends are your lifeline and spending time with them helps reduce your anxiety, this type of situation is anything but easy.

I work at a hospital, meaning I am an essential worker. While it’s nice to be able to leave my house and see other people, I am risking my health every day just by going to work. My job is to screen people as they enter the hospital. While we do our best to stay six feet apart, I am still exposed to a number of illnesses beyond COVID-19. As I am writing this, I begin a streak of working five days in a row.

Since I work at a hospital during a pandemic and don’t have friends nearby to ease my worry, my mental health has suffered greatly. Almost every day I get a headache that lasts for hours and trying to do homework on a computer does not help at all. Often, the best relief is to sleep it off, but then that affects my sleep schedule. I then find myself wide awake at 1 a.m. and sleeping in until 9 or 10 a.m. Having poor sleep results in more headaches and the cycle restarts.

Due to all of the worries and struggles with coping students like me are facing, some of our professors are taking extra steps to help us however they can. They change the assignments that are due, or cancel assignments altogether. They change their grading rubrics, making it easier for students to still succeed. Some have said there will be no final at all for their classes.

In the end, all people everywhere are having some of the hardest times of their lives. With applications such as Zoom, some are able to find comfort in seeing their loved ones, even if it is through a screen. For those of us whose comfort lies in personal connections and contact, there is no real comfort to be found. I crave a hug from my mom or my best friend. I crave sitting in uncomfortable chairs while at the movies and throwing popcorn at my friends during it.

In the words of Ellen DeGeneres, “Be kind to one another” and make sure to check in with your loved ones as often as you can. Whether that be through Zoom or Skype or pulling into their driveways to share a lunch from six feet away. Now, more than ever, you never know what someone is going through.

Coronavirus: The New Normal

Things are getting crazy in today’s world! Almost all students from the University of Maine at Presque Isle have left campus and have gone home. Most schools nationwide are shutting down. Classes are now to be taken online. They are either over video chat each week or just making sure students do a certain amount of work.  All this is in an effort to stop the spread of this deadly virus. This virus is medically known as COVID-19, commonly known as the Coronavirus. It has taken the lives of many and has caused us to shelter in place. This virus is taking the lives of older citizens, but people of all ages are getting this virus. The number of deaths that have occurred around the world is what has us taking precautions.

At first when we heard about the virus, we didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been. Being a student from UMPI, I was definitely worried about traveling across the country to get home. This virus doesn’t need a host. Not to mention Washington State is the epicenter of the Coronavirus. But in times like these, you definitely want to be with your family. Nothing was going to keep me from being home.

Life is definitely different from before. Multiple professional athletes have tested positive for the Coronavirus. Among the NBA players who have tested positive for the virus are Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Marcus Smart. There are plenty of other professional athletes from different sports who have come down with the virus. Therefore there are no more professional sporting events for the time being, to try and prevent the spread throughout teams–as well as the fans–because they are equally as important to the sports world.

Photo of what many sports arenas across the country look like right now.

Now leaving the world of sports, as mentioned before, we have been ordered to shelter in place. People can only leave for the essentials. Businesses are shutting down to minimize the number of people out of their homes.

This doesn’t just affect popular people and big businesses. This also affects smaller businesses and less well-known people. One of these is Scott Corley, a truck driver at Columbia Distributing. “I’m still working, but the company I work for has lost half of their business. This is thanks to restaurants and bars closing down,” Corley said. He  continued on about his personal life and said, “I don’t go out anymore on weekends. I used to go to movies with the family but now can’t thanks to this virus.” Corley shared a story about delivering to a QFC (local store). He said they ask you questions before you can go into the store and Corley was the only one in the store who wasn’t wearing a mask.

A few businesses that are still working through these times are Burger King, Dominoes, McDonald’s and Dairy Queen. These fast food restaurants are only open for carryout or drive thru. Some stores have remained open so that people can make food at their homes and do their best to stay home.

Life for me personally is different because I am very outdoorsy and like to hang out with my friends. Since we’re trying to stop the spread of the virus we can’t hang out with our friends at this time. We need to keep six feet of distance between ourselves and the next person.

This ain’t even the biggest problem! The biggest problem is that there is no cure for this virus in sight. So things could potentially get worse. Doctors are taking every step they can to try to come to a solution. They just don’t know what to do, which is a problem, because this gives the virus more time to spread. All in all, we are hoping doctors can find a cure to this outbreak so that we can return to life as usual.

 

Introvert’s View on Self-Isolating

At first, I was looking forward to the thought of self-isolating. It was a chance to get a much-needed break from the world. Before, there were days that I did not get home until 8 o’clock in the evening, sometimes even later. I never had a day to relax and take a breather because I was always working on something. Whether it be dance, school, helping my mom out in the candy shop or just hanging out with friends, there was always something. But I’ve learned that too much of something, no matter how much I love doing it, can be a bad thing.

When the first case showed up in Aroostook County, I almost celebrated. It was an excuse to stay home and do, well, nothing. I convinced my mom to buy the new Animal Crossing game, New Horizons, and we have been playing it almost non-stop ever since. We’re on the fourth season of “Ancient Aliens” and toward the end of our second run through of “The Big Bang Theory.” Life was almost perfect. Except for the minor fact that I still have to do discussion posts. But that is something I am going to have to do no matter what.

I started to worry about how long this would last. The candy shop my mom worked so hard on was at a standstill. I had plans to go to Boston in August with a group of friends. I wouldn’t be able to watch my best friends graduate. Nor would we be able to go to their last spring formal together. Soon the days blended together, and I was missing my friends and family. I ended up getting a case of cabin fever from staying home for so long.

“It’s an introvert’s paradise,” my mom said. “I could really get used to working from home. But there are certain aspects of being in the shop that I miss.”

Thankfully, my mom and I figured out a way to start a curbside pickup for the candy shop. We are both able to get out of the house a little more. Which, in the long run, might be beneficial for both of us.

But, until recently, I was not scared. It was all just a lot of worrying. When my dad came by to drop off groceries, it was an eye-opener for me as to how serious this situation was. Since my dad lives in Caribou, Maine, my mom thought he could bring us food because there was not a confirmed case up there yet. Before all this started, we were making plans to visit him for the weekend. We were taking turns traveling to visit since he moved to Caribou for a new position in his work. Until he dropped off the groceries, I had not seen him for weeks. I wasn’t able to even hug him goodbye when he left for fear of getting the virus.

After the initial panic of finding out there was a case in Aroostook County, my grandparents came by for a quick visit. We all kept our distance from one another, except for my grandfather. “I don’t care what they say, you’re my granddaughter,” he said as he pulled off his glove and gave my hand a squeeze. We all eventually realized that it was near impossible for any of us to have gotten the virus due to how little we’ve left our houses. I always say it’s better to be paranoid than dead. So, we all hugged goodbye, and my grandparents went on their way.

Even though my time at home is less than it was at the start, it’s still more than I’m used to. I still enjoy it, but it can be overwhelming. You never know how much you appreciate something until it’s gone. The hardest part about this is not being able to see my friends and family. What I miss the most is spending time with them. While I still talk to them, it’s not the same as seeing them in person. It is best if we all limit our contact with others as much as possible to help stop the spread of the virus. Even though it can be hard, it will be worth it.

Focusing less on the negative side of this situation and more on the positive side is my way of getting through it all. I hope to spend this time focusing on writing. That is something I’ve been trying to get back into but never had an opportunity until now. I imagine that my mom and I will start our third run through of “The Big Bang Theory” soon. And as always, I’ll be working on my town in Animal Crossing. The plans I made can always be changed for a different day and I will still have chances to dance with my best friends. It will just be a while before these things can happen, and that is OK. Like I said, it’s better to be paranoid than dead.

Bethany’s character in the game Animal Crossing New Horizons.

Inside a Grocery Store During COVID-19

We live in a world that keeps changing. Because of this, many of us are getting used to a new type of normal. Sheltering in place has kept us from friends and family, all for the good of our own health. Essential workers put themselves and those they live with in the face of danger daily. As I type this article from my rural community, the coronavirus has yet to hit us. The curve starts to flatten slowly but not nearly enough before this deadly virus hits the town of Millinocket, Maine.

In the seemingly ghost town of Millinocket, things everywhere have changed to accommodate the virus. For many the biggest visual change right now is in the Hannaford grocery store. If you have not been shopping for a while, you might be surprised to see stores and the precautions they take.

Photo of what a lot of stores around the world look like during these extraordinary times.

When going to the Millinocket Hannaford and other essential stores during this time, customers and employees alike should be aware of these changes. When first arriving at the store you should be courteous of the set limits put into place. Millinocket’s Hannaford allows only 45 customers in the store at a time to help control confined spaces. As you walk to the sliding glass doors you may think that you want a cart. Due to lack of cleaning supplies and the importance of surfaces needing to be clean, baskets are no longer available for use.

The grocery cart will be sprayed down with germ-killing chemicals by an employee and handed directly to a customer as needed. As you enter the store, be sure to be mindful of the six-foot rule even with the employees. You might even notice red arrows on the floor. These arrows are placed to help everyone stick to a six-foot rule. It was once a better time when we could enter a store and walk wherever we wanted to whichever aisle. But it is a new world and we all must do our part to help protect one another.

“The arrows are easy to forget about right now. I was hauling a U-boat down the wrong side of the store,” Kyle Corcoran, an employee at Hannaford since 2019, said.

Once done making your way around the store, you might notice the red tape in the shape of a square by each cash register. This is there to protect customers waiting in line and endorse the six-foot rule. Sneeze shields are put up at every register. Surfaces are being wiped down repeatedly and anything that may get touched is sanitized directly after.

This is a brand-new way of shopping. It may seem inconvenient, but customers and employees are being kept safe. So, as you place your face mask on with the intention to venture out to a store, please know that safety is a main priority. Stores are providing us with a new normal.

The Need to Support Local Businesses

In any small town, there are local businesses that rely on the community for support. In Houlton, Maine, things are no different. The downtown area of Houlton has a variety of activities that bring the people together for fun times. Many think local businesses are the heart of the town. In the summer, there are farmers’ markets and 4th of July celebrations that go on until midnight. Now there is something bringing many small towns to a standstill.

“Before the governor told all non-essential business to close, I started closing the shop at 2 p.m. because no one was coming due to the local schools and business closures,” Charlene Tabb, the owner of Betty Marie’s Sweet Shop, said. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, local business owners have it rough. Non-essential businesses in Houlton are temporarily closing because of the virus. What used to be a booming community is now like a ghost town.

An empty Betty Marie’s Candy Shop during the closing of non-essential businesses.

“Many of the business owners I’ve spoken with are concerned about how long this mandatory shutdown will last. Business owners have rent and suppliers to pay along with payroll to meet,” Charlene said. Social distancing and lockdown may go on for months. She is not sure what the next steps for her business will be.

“It feels odd driving through downtown and seeing all the dark stores through the window. It almost feels like a ghost town,” Melanie Griffin, a local from the Houlton area, said. “I used to stop by a shop on my way home because that’s where people I knew would go. It was an opportunity to socialize and help out the local economy. Now that I can’t do that anymore, I’ve certainly become lonelier.”

Charlene hopes to continue with a new normal after the community starts up again. “We have several businesses in the downtown area that are less than a year old. Mine is one of them. I can only hope that all of us can come through this and thrive together,” she said. These local businesses succeed from the support of the community. After the pandemic ends will be a key time for Houlton.

“I am looking forward to a day in town with a chance to perhaps go from shop to shop and go to the movie theater with other people,” Melanie said. “I think people can support them by continuing to shop at the ones that are left. Go to the drive through and the store. Just remember to follow the social distancing guidelines.”

The people will be eager to continue to support the local businesses. This is something that is an important part of the community. There are those who hope that once it calms down, things will return to a new type of normal. Houlton will one day return to its former glory. Until then, Betty Marie’s Sweet Shop, along with other local businesses, will stay closed, waiting to open again.