Real talk: Maine winters aren’t nearly as bad as we act like they are. So cheer up! (And don’t close up shop!)
By Paul Doiron[M]uch has been written about the OPEN FOR BUSINESS sign the governor erected on the Maine Turnpike at the start of his first term — about its politics and its messaging; about how much the sign cost to create and install; about the promise it makes and whether the state can fulfill that promise; and even about the line between criminal vandalism and 1960s-style merry pranksterism when thieves absconded with the original placard, thereby forcing business owners to chip in for a replacement.
Is Maine open for business? If you live here year-round, as I do, this is the time of year when the question ceases to be the subject of epistemological (let alone political) debate and becomes an actual pressing concern. Along the coast especially, hundreds of businesses close for the winter. Entire streets go dark. February is the month when those three words — open for business — take on an importance that is hard to communicate to those who only visit Maine during the milder months.
Summer tourists often ask me how I can bear to live here all winter, as if we are encompassed by the Arctic Circle for part of the year and must endure months of darkness and unplowed roads passable only on Ski-Doos. The truth is, winter in Maine can be hard, but it’s not like we have to worry about marauding polar bears.
Speaking personally, I credit those businesses that keep their doors open with keeping me sane. I give thanks when I see lights in windows. On a blustery day, it feels like a gift to know that I can put on my boots and walk into Camden village and have lunch at a James Beard Award–nominated restaurant like Long Grain, or jump in my car and drive to Morse’s Sauerkraut in Waldoboro and buy a jar of sour mustard pickles (because I need my sour mustard pickles), or visit the Strand Theatre in Rockland and hear Dave Mallett live and in concert. The only way to get by is to take the glass-half-full approach and focus on what remains open. The alternative is falling prey to seasonal affective disorder and self-induced loneliness. Cabin fever isn’t so much a malady as a chosen affliction.
What also helps, I have found, is giving in to a sneer occasionally. When I pass by a T-shirt shop with a sign in the door that says CLOSED FOR THE SEASON, I inevitably roll my eyes. On what calendar does three quarters of the year constitute a “season”? And why should I see my home state through the myopic eyes of someone who thinks in those terms?
My theory is that Maine’s historic dependence on summer tourism has caused many of us to see our state through a glass coldly. We’ve come to believe the myth that the winter weather here is especially frightful — when really it’s no chillier than heavily populated cities like Chicago and Minneapolis.
I certainly can’t blame businesses for closing if there are no customers to cater to. Nor do I have a beef with someone who prefers to be someplace warmer in February than Maine. (My future self will probably be a snowbird.) When spring comes, I will welcome the tourists and summer people with open arms.
But in the meantime, I have resolved to start thanking the businesspeople who help keep Camden a year-round town. Perception drives reality more often than we care to admit. If you focus on seeing shuttered storefronts, that is all you will see. So is Maine open for business this winter? It is if enough of us believe it is.
Photo: Reader photo submitted by Pete Talbot.