Coronavirus

Shutdown Stories: Maine Indoor Karting

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In November 2003, Maine Indoor Karting (MIK) opened its doors, becoming the first and only indoor go-karting facility in Maine. Owner Rick Snow, a self-described car nut who served in the Navy, was forced to shut down in March, and at the time he did not know he would eventually be closing his business permanently. 

Snow grew up around cars and always enjoyed racing from the time he got his driver’s license. He used to participate regularly in autocross racing events, and while on a couple weeks of leave between duty stations in the Navy, managed to get his formula racing license. Establishing MIK was a way for Snow to bring his love of racing to a southern Maine community where others could fall in love with the sport.   

Unfortunately, Maine’s excessive, heavy-handed response to the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in Snow closing the doors of MIK for good. On May 22, the business posted on its Facebook page that the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic had forced its permanent closure.

Snow first closed MIK in response to the pandemic on March 16, the Monday after one of the best March weekends the facility had in a long time, he said. To Snow, it felt like the right thing to do because so much was unknown about the virus. His original plan was for the business to close temporarily and reopen on April 1. That plan was derailed by Governor Janet Mills. 

“We thought we’d be allowed to reopen sooner because when you’re here, you’re in a go-kart,” Snow said. “You’re way more than six feet apart and you wear individual head socks, which were already sterilized between each use. Our building is the size of a grocery store but the non-essential business designation and limitations on gatherings prevented us from having staff and customers return to the building.”

Rick Snow and his family at Maine Indoor Karting. (From left to right: Nathaniel, Lori, Mira, Rick and Alexander). Credit: Maine Indoor Karting

Shortly after MIK’s closure, Governor Mills announced the long-term closure of small businesses across the state, and uncertainty began to set in for Snow and the MIK family.

“Her ideas for quarantining and reopening were much more onerous than I thought they would be,” Snow said.

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To remain solvent during a long stretch without customers, Snow negotiated rent with the owners of the Scarborough building that MIK called home for nearly two decades. He also applied for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. MIK received funding through the PPP relatively quickly, enabling Snow to keep his employees on his payroll into early June.

It took longer for Snow to hear back on the EIDL but he finally received it around mid-May. However, this funding still comes in the form of a loan and must be paid back, which presented a serious challenge for Snow with no customers coming through the door.

Even before COVID-19 reached Maine, Snow was making difficult business decisions. The lease on the building in Scarborough was set to expire at the end of the year. Since the bulk of MIK’s business comes in June, July and August, he couldn’t see the businesses surviving this summer in the midst of the pandemic and the state’s overbearing response to it.

“We were going to do a self assessment after the summer,” Snow said. “It looked like we were up about 15 percent through the first three months of 2020, and if we continued on that trajectory, we could pay a higher rent which would help the landlord on renewing our rent and remaining in Scarborough. Of course, then COVID-19 came. It wasn’t so much the virus as it was the governor’s lack of concern for small businesses in Maine. “

For Snow, who serves as the chairman of the board of the Maine Tourism Association, the most challenging aspect of the shutdown was maneuvering the guidance coming from Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). Snow says he thinks the Mills administration lied to the public about working with tourism interests when constructing their reopening plans.

“I was participating on the weekly phone calls with DECD Commissioner Heather Johnson,” Snow said. “She was very upbeat about opening again and gave us all the impression we’d be allowed to reopen on May 1.

They said they worked with tourism groups to develop their plan. None of the agencies worked with us. No one asked us about a 14-day quarantine. Nobody was questioned or asked about any of this,” Snow said.

Governor Mills’ requirement that out-of-staters traveling to Maine quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival served as the final nail in MIK’s coffin. In the summer months, MIK, like so many other Maine businesses, is dependent on tourists to keep the doors open for the remainder of the year.

“Why would you want to visit a small business in this environment? The 14 day quarantine closes any idea of people coming to Maine,” Snow said.

At this point, Snow saw the writing on the wall. With uncertainty about when customers could return to his business and a lease set to expire later in the year, he knew it was about time to pull the plug on MIK.

Without confidence that MIK could succeed in 2020, the building owners ultimately decided to put the Scarborough facility on the market, forcing Snow to liquidate the business.

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“Ultimately, we had to make a business decision,” Snow said. “I can’t afford to commit myself to an additional loan with no money coming through the door and no idea when money will start coming through the door.”

Snow says he thinks Governor Mills could have done more to keep his and other small businesses operable during the height of the pandemic in Maine.

“It was most angering for me to drive by Hannaford and Walmart and see all the parking lots full, knowing these giant corporations can stay open while all the small businesses in Maine are closed.

She was being so cavalier in her public statements about the economy, and it was clear that she could care less about Maine Indoor Karting, our family and the families we support.”

Do you own a business that has been significantly impacted by Maine’s COVID-19 response? Share your story by contacting Jake Posik at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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