Catching Up with Local Saco and Biddeford Businesses
“On the edge of caution” and “keeping our vibes high”
By R. Cook
The Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery on 100 Main Street, Saco
In Saco Mill No. 3, the Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery was bustling with activity just before the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Its outdoor terrace tables were filled with patrons enjoying the pleasant view of the Saco River. The mood was upbeat. “We are not suffering by any means,” said Rebecca Lemieux, the restaurant and brew pub’s general manager. “We have been extremely busy since June 1.” People are clearly thirsty for the pub’s hand-crafted beer, hungry for good, well-prepared food, and glad to be eating out again.
Still, there were many reminders that it was not a usual holiday afternoon. Rebecca and her staff all wear face masks, and all patrons are required to wear them until they are seated and their food and drink arrives. (Governor Janet Mills had issued an executive order requiring the masks, the day before mandating it statewide.) The brew pub’s success is only half of what it used to be, before the COVID-19 pandemic found its way to Maine in March. Rebecca explained that they could not offer any indoor dining until the Governor issues an order that it can be permitted.
They have to maintain six feet of social distancing between their outdoor terrace tables, which means they can only serve half as many customers as they did the previous summer. Fewer tables mean that patrons sometimes have to wait one to two hours to be seated, Rebecca noted. The Run of the Mill also employs half as many staff as last summer—60 instead of 110—and they have had trouble staffing their kitchen. They have combined their indoor and outdoor menus into one menu. The brew pub also produces as many as 32 craft beers at a rate of seven at a time, twice a week. But they have to make sure they do not make too much, in case the situation changes and they are forced to do curbside takeout again. “We are selling a lot of beer. We just can’t afford to have too much around,” Rebecca explained.
Unlike many businesses that were forced to close in April and May, Rebecca said curbside service allowed her business to survive. “We did not close. We stayed open for takeout. It kept us open, and people knew we were here.”
When it comes to the masks, Rebecca said they encounter some people who are unwilling to go along with the new rules and sometimes become abusive toward them. She firmly believes that wearing masks is one of the best ways to prevent the potential spread of the virus. She wishes all of her customers felt that way, too. “We want to stay open, but people have to do their part.”
Rebecca is optimistic her business will remain open as long as the number of coronavirus cases does not spike up. A resurgence of cases in the fall would force the Run of the Mill to shutter its doors.
The Palace Diner on Franklin Street, Biddeford
Just across the Saco River in Biddeford, Chad Conley, co-owner of The Palace Diner on Franklin Street, has had slightly different experiences. He said they opted to close this spring and reopen for takeout only on June 1. In this way, he hopes they have helped to minimize the potential spread of the virus in the community. Long time regulars who enjoyed their meals inside the iconic eatery have not been able to gather there since March. As many know, this diner has a lot of history and likes to take the long view. It was built in Lowell, Massachusetts, as their website says, “in 1927 by the Pollard Company. It has been in Biddeford, Maine, for its entire life and is one of two Pollard cars remaining in America. Greg Mitchell and Chad Conley reopened the diner in March of 2014 and are its sixth proprietors.”
“It’s most likely going to be a terrible summer for business, but we have no doubt that Palace Diner will thrive over the long term. It’s a tough time for us to be in business, but we’re not alone, and we’ll get through it,” Chad said.
Flourish Arts as Secret Healing on Main Street
John Bryson, owner of Flourish Arts as Secret Healing on Main Street, said he reopened his store and studio on June 1 after they were forced to close this spring. Flourish offers art classes, open mike nights for a variety of performers, Yoga, healing arts, and intuitive arts. They also have a store where they sell hand-crafted jewelry and gemstones. John said Flourish was just getting ready to mark its two-year anniversary in March when COVID-19 forced them to cancel their events or “happenings.”
Since they reopened on June 1, John said they are waiting for more of their followers, whom they call “Flourishers,” to return in force. “People are still reluctant to come out. It’s always been a challenge here because we are so different. But that’s okay. We like to be different.”
John said masks are optional depending on their customers’ comfort level, and social distancing is encouraged. Going forward, John said all he can do is take it day by day and deal with things as they are happening and navigate them. “We’re going to keep our vibes high, as we say here.”
Part and Parcel store on Alfred Street
Ali Preble, co-owner of the Part and Parcel specialty market and provisions store on Alfred Street, and her team are taking the same approach. Ali and Danielle O’Neill have owned and operated their business for about two years. Part and Parcel is one of many businesses that opened in Biddeford and Saco when the two cities experienced a renaissance that has been put on hold by the pandemic.
Like Run of the Mill, Ali said their business did not have to close because they were deemed essential. They did takeout orders for their customers this spring, and she hoped to offer indoor dining again next to their deli. Business has been “hit or miss” since they fully reopened on June 1. “A lot of people have been shopping locally, which is a huge plus for us,” she said.
Part and Parcel also sells their food products online, which helps. Ali and her two full-time employees, Montana and Fiona, wear face masks, but they do not require their patrons to wear them. Social distancing is easily achieved because they usually have no more than five people at a time inside the market.
As Ali pondered what the rest of this summer would be like for her business, she is keeping her expectations low. “We’re on the edge of caution.”