CAMDEN — With mandatory closure of dine-in restaurants across the state, it’s no wonder that the phone call Brian Beggarly received March 19 was met with enormous relief. His landlord contacted Beggarly out of the blue, saying his rent was suspended for the time being.
“It brought me to tears,” said Beggarly, who owns the downtown Camden breakfast and lunch restaurant Boynton McKay.
It is a popular place, filled to the brim every day. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, Boynton McKay is closed to dine-in clientele until further notice. Like other restaurants, Beggarly is trying to keep his business afloat with take-out meal preparation, but it’s March in Maine, a tortuously slow season for restaurant owners.
And Beggarly has eight full-time employees also facing sudden and grave financial straits.
His landlord, who owns the building on Main Street, and who wished not to be identified, said he and his wife agreed that suspending rent for Boynton McKay was the right thing to do.
Small businesses are vulnerable right now, with the disappearance of clientele. They deserve a breather, the landlord said.
He characterized this simple yet generous act as merely “bending things in the right direction,” which everyone in the world needs to help accomplish.
“We have been pretending to be calm, while freaking out,” said Beggarly. ‘Rent is not the biggest expense but it’s up there. Everything we can get off the table is helpful.”
March is a fallow month for most hospitality and service businesses in Maine, the time when many locals head out of state.
“We get through winter, with the toboggan championships and Camden Conference, and by the time March rolls around, people leave for the Caribbean or to ski,” said Beggarly.
This March is especially devastating, and Beggarly is working hard now filling out state employment forms and emergency small business loans.
“That’s taking most of my time,” he said.
The gesture his landlord made in suspending contractual rent payments reverberates through the Beggarly’s business, and more broadly into the community.
“They’ve been awesome since we started, and this is another awesome thing they’ve done,” he said.
For the landlord, he is concerned about the healthcare system as a whole through this crisis. In conversation over the phone, he focused on societal collaboration to keep the vulnerable and elderly safe, and in doing so, protecting the public healthcare system.
Take advantage of offers for help, he suggested. Although fiercely independent Mainers don’t like to accept help, this is time to stay healthy. In doing so, the local hospitals will face less strain.
Take advantage of the generosity of spirit, he said. Let others do the shopping.
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