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Near Acadia National Park, shutdown’s effects will linger

Acadia National Park, a big destination for leaf-peepers, was open for business Thursday after being closed for weeks.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Acadia National Park, a big destination for leaf-peepers, was open for business Thursday after being closed for weeks.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The reopening of Acadia National Park Thursday came too late for Rich Oczkowski, owner of High Seas Motel.

The 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government, at the end of his busy season, cut his usual October sales by half. He stood at his 37-room property — tucked amid dramatic ocean vistas and glorious fall foliage — contemplating how he and his pregnant wife will pay the mortgage, budget for the baby, and make it through the long off-season.

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In a difficult economy, he said, “You’re spread even thinner.”

Oczkowski and this Downeast tourist town are among those who will feel the effects long after Washington turns to other issues.

The shutdown sucked an estimated $24 billion from the US economy.

The impact fell most heavily on industries such as aerospace, defense, food services for federal workers, and tourism related to national parks, economists said. The loss of economic activity will not derail the recovery, but it will slow a lackluster economy that desperately needs to accelerate.

IHS Global Insight, a Lexington forecasting firm, projects the shutdown will cut economic growth this quarter by a half-percentage point to 1.5 percent — a rate that would probably generate too few jobs to lower the nation’s historically high unemployment.

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“It’s big in terms of growth rate, [and] that has to do with the fact that we weren’t growing that fast to begin with,” said Paul Edelstein, director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight.

About 2 million visitors pass through Acadia and Bar Harbor during a short season that runs from May to the end of October. While summer is busiest, the money earned then by businesses pays the bills, said Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. It’s fall sales that get banked and saved for the barren winter months.

September and October revenues are estimated at about 30 percent of what local businesses bring in each season, Fogg said. The shutdown coincided with the peak of the fall season, including the long Columbus Day weekend. When Acadia closed, cancellations followed.

One hotel reported 182 canceled room nights, Fogg said, while another said it lost $33,000 during the shutdown. “What’s not shown in those numbers is the people who didn’t call, didn’t make a reservation,” Fogg said.

A five-hour drive from Boston, this area’s tourism sites rely on visitors who plan to stay overnight or longer. At the Quality Inn, sales fell about $15,000, compared with last year’s, even though employees came up with a picturesque ride along Route 3 and Seal Harbor as a substitute for the views from Acadia’s popular Park Loop Road.

“Columbus Day weekend — Friday, Saturday, Sunday — is usually full and booked months in advance,” general manager Nancy Tibbetts said. But visitors canceled or shortened their stays because of the shutdown.

“We filled one of the three days,” she said.

Like the Quality Inn, local tourism officials and other businesses tried to come up with alternate itineraries for visitors that showcased the town’s other attractions.

At Ullikana Inn, a bed-and-breakfast near Main Street, owners Roy Kasindorf and Helene Harton, his wife, mapped out morning walks and hikes for their guests.

The chamber worked with the cruise lines that dock in Bar Harbor to find other destinations for passengers while they were in port.

“They were spending more time downtown, eating in the restaurants, shopping in the stores,” Fogg said. “Whether those benefits outweigh the losses of those who didn’t come remains to be seen.”

It wasn’t enough for Angel and Matthew Hochman, owners of Trailhead Cafe and the nearby Opera House Internet Cafe downtown. When Acadia closed, the park employees who regularly popped in for coffee stopped coming, and Angel Hochman estimates that business for the fall is down by at least 25 percent.

The losses forced her and her husband to lay off two seasonal workers several weeks early, and they’re now rethinking improvements planned for Trailhead Cafe, which is moving into a new space on Cottage Street.

They’ll buy used kitchen equipment instead of new, paint the floor instead of installing a new one, and postpone resurfacing the bar.

Matthew Hochman will repaint the walls instead of hiring out the job.

“Three contractor guys won’t be getting our business,” Angel Hochman said, “because we can’t afford it.”

Deirde Fernandes of the Globe staff contributed
to this report. Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.

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