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Caribou looking to help businesses affected by COVID-19

CARIBOU, Maine — With recent state and federal orders to close non-essential businesses and limiting access to others, Caribou City Council discussed offering assistance to local businesses as they struggle to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Out of 22 restaurants in Caribou, City Manager Dennis Marker said only four have drive-up windows for food pickup, adding that recent orders to close their doors to in-house dining are resulting in a potential 8 to 10 percent loss in revenues.

“These 22 businesses provide jobs for more than 100 residents whose jobs are now at risk,” Marker wrote in the council packet. “Health edicts also impact movie theaters, bowling alleys, bars, physical fitness centers, and more.”

As a result, Marker said the federal government, through the Small Business Administration, is providing emergency loans to help, and that any local businesses interested in obtaining one of these can visit sba.gov for information.

He said the city is also looking into assisting businesses through its revolving loan fund program, which has nearly $800,000 available. And while the original intent was to help new businesses get started or to help the expansion of current businesses, Marker said that using the money in this situation is the equivalent of job retention.

As an example of hardships that local businesses face, Marker said he knows a local farmer who delivers food to colleges. With schools closing their doors, he said that business is directly affected and will no longer be able to deliver vegetables like it could in the past.

“It has a large ripple effect,” he said.

Given the current situation, he said the city could utilize money in the revolving loan account to get businesses over the hump, and that the item is up for discussion as an opportunity to get the word out to local business owners. 

Mayor Mark Goughan commended businesses for having the patience to hold out through these difficult times. He said his decision to put this item on the agenda was out of a hope that city officials will continue looking into their options while heeding the direction given to them.

“This is beyond our control as a council,” he said. “This is something where advice is going to be given to us. You listen to the governor, you listen to [Aroostook EMA Director] Darren Woods, you listen to our police chief and you listen to our president.”

The mayor said he hopes to keep local businesses and the community at large informed as the city continues to investigate available assistance. 

“We’re in for a big struggle, but we’re going to stay positive,” he said. 

Councilor Hugh Kirkpatrick suggested that, since these programs may take a while to go into effect, citizens in the meantime could buy gift certificates from their favorite establishments in town as a way to help them before additional funding is available.

Councilor Doug Morrell emphasized the importance of keeping local businesses afloat. 

“The last thing we want to do is lose the precious few that we’ve got,” he said.

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