Catherine Flaherty, Small Business Support Fellow, reflects on resiliency in the service industry and what it means to provide small business support in the time of COVID.
“Behind!” “Corner!” “Fire!” “Beside!” These exclamations are all too familiar to those who work in the service industry. I still say “Behind” and “Corner” at home and in the supermarket. God forbid I would bump into anyone, causing a fictitious dish to fall.
I started at sixteen years old as a busser at a local restaurant, and slowly gained the confidence and people skills to become a server a few years later. Being in the service industry is a love hate relationship- and man, there is a lot of love. The people, the food, the drink- all come together and make a restaurant feel like home. My experience working in the service industry in Portland is not unique, but the genius and passion of those who make up the culinary world in Portland absolutely is. Stories of restaurant closures creep into my social media feed daily. They are a sad reminder of a world where sanitizer, wallets, and nerves are stretched thin. It is in times like these that the ingenuity and resilience of chefs, bartenders, and business owners alike have been beacons of hope amidst a challenging time. The more we can do to assist those efforts, the better off our state will be.
In the fall of 2020, I applied to be an AmeriCorps member at the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG). I excitedly jumped at the opportunity. After being accepted into the program, along with thirteen other members, we became the Resilience Corps team. The Resilience Corps team was formed by GPCOG with the intent to boost resilience in our community. Each Resilience Corps member assists in unique projects related to regional, community, or organizational resilience and helps to accelerate climate action, racial equity, and digital equity across the state.
I became a Small Business Support Fellow, with my focus for the colder months being on the Maine Outdoor Dine Campaign (MOD). MOD is an online resource where you can see what restaurants and breweries are offering outdoor dining in Maine. The project started out focusing on the Greater Portland Area, but has quickly launched into a statewide initiative. Like many of the Resilience Corps members, I wear a few different hats. I am also working with the City of Portland’s Economic Development team with administering grants to small businesses. I also am working with Portland Downtown on projects relating to mural displays and the Open Streets Project. The Open Streets Project focuses on the opening of select streets in the downtown area to pedestrian only traffic. Restaurants and cafes were issued Parklet Permits that allowed businesses to offer outdoor table service over the summer.
Whether you have worked in the service industry or not, we all have great memories of meals at our favorite restaurants around the city. A meal once enjoyed indoors shrouded with aromas, atmosphere, music, and conversation, looks much different neatly placed in a compostable to-go container. Now is the time to support our favorite restaurants and breweries so we may have a chance to fall in love with those spaces again. In addition to the curbside pick-up options that businesses are offering, utilizing the romantic outdoor dining options is a fun and safe way to brighten your winter. From heated igloos to ice fishing shacks, restaurants are adapting creatively and quickly. Being in service of a community that I hold so dear is an honor, and I cannot wait to assist businesses in getting Mainers outside.
About Catherine Flaherty
Catherine (or Cat) is a lifelong Portlander. She attended the University of Southern Maine and studied Environmental Planning and Policy. She enjoys being outside and loves to spend time on Maine’s beautiful coastline as much as possible. Having been born and raised in Portland, Cat believes in giving back to the community that has given her so much. She is excited to learn, grow and connect with people.