Madison Clements, left, and Maddy Fleurent fill orders for customers at Martel’s Ice Cream on Thursday. This is Clements’ first season at the Saco ice cream shop and Fleurent’s fourth. Co-owner Patty Martel-Buxton said hiring about 20 summer workers has been a breeze this year. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Dave Schiff started hiring for the summer in October.

Each year, Schiff, owner and director of Camp Manitou, needs to bring on 225 to 250 staff members to keep the Oakland camp running for the nearly 400 boys who will spend their summer there.

Like many of Maine’s seasonal businesses, Camp Manitou has struggled in recent years to find and keep summer workers. But luckily for Schiff, this year has been much easier: Just about a month before it opens for the first session, Camp Manitou is fully staffed.

The generally sunnier outlook ahead of the summer season is common among Maine’s business owners this year.

Summer hiring has been a slog in the tourism-dependent state for years, but it reached crisis level during the pandemic, according to Becky Jacobson, executive director of HospitalityMaine, the trade group that represents the industry.

Many businesses last summer scrambled to find workers amid record-low unemployment rates and limitations on workforce visas.


Leading up to last summer, 70% of businesses that spoke with the Maine Tourism Association said they’d be understaffed for the season. Some were forced to shorten hours, reduce capacity or close entirely.

But as Maine once again gears up for the busy season, Jacobson said she’s cautiously optimistic.

“I’m not hearing the desperation that we heard (previously),” she said. “Managers are getting back to managing and not having to work lines every day. There are still people who are struggling, but it’s nowhere near where it was.”

Patty Martel-Buxton said hiring has been especially easy this year at Martel’s Ice Cream and Mini Golf, the business she co-owns in Saco. The shop opened for the season in April, and finding the 20 or so employees to man its two miniature golf greens and scoop ice cream has been a breeze. Younger kids are especially eager to work this year, she said.

There weren’t any issues getting fully staffed at the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunk, either, said Colby Bracy, human resources director. The hotel usually adds about 30 new faces to its roughly 185-employee roster each year.

For a few years, Bracy would have people sign up for an interview and then not answer when she called. But even that hasn’t happened this year.


“The people who are applying are actually looking for a job,” she said.

Jacobson attributed the smoother hiring season to several factors.

In the first years following the height of the pandemic, some people were uncomfortable returning to work in crowded, public environments. But the world feels like it’s opened back up, Jacobson said, and many people who left the workforce have returned.

Also this year, the federal Department of Labor released more than 64,000 visas in November, earlier than the usual January and February schedule. This allowed businesses to plan ahead. While they may not have gotten as many workers as they wanted, they at least knew ahead of time, she said.

But businesses have adapted and gotten creative, too.

They’ve raised wages and offered better benefits and flexible schedules. Some created housing opportunities. Others embraced hiring more diverse populations, such as new Mainers, people reentering the workforce after incarceration, or older people who retired but weren’t ready to give up working.


It’s shaping up to be a strong summer, Jacobson said – “if we can just get some decent weather.”

Madison Clements scoops ice cream for customers at Martel’s Ice Cream on Thursday. This is her first season at the Saco shop. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, is also hearing that more business owners are feeling optimistic.

The tourism association did not poll business owners about staffing this year, but the organization will check in and likely get the “pulse” after Memorial Day weekend, one of the season’s major milestones and the official kickoff to summer, he said.

But despite the air of optimism, Cameron said, summer hiring will never be a cakewalk.

“There are not enough people here in the state of Maine to fill all the jobs. It’s kind of a numbers problem,” he said.


There are too many concurrent challenges – housing, transportation, child care, to name a few – to say the labor shortage is solved. The businesses are also too different and too widespread.

“It’s always going to be a challenge for the industry,” Cameron said.

There’s been no shortage of applicants for the several open positions at Rococo Dessert Bar in Kennebunk’s Lower Village. But not the kind the restaurant needs.

“There are a lot of people who want to come in to work,” General Manager Brigid Litster said. “I’ve been getting so many applications, people dropping off resumes – but the people who are applying aren’t necessarily qualified for the jobs.”

The dessert bar, which opened around Labor Day last year, managed to make it through the winter months with only about three employees, but now Litster needs to hire another 15 or so. The next-door scoop shop, Rococo Ice Cream, needs to hire at least another dozen.

“We get the tides of tourism. We get to experience that in full, which is excellent, but it’s such a dramatic shift between being completely dead with no business in April and now, in May, having to hire 15 people,” she said. “I love that people want to work, but I can’t run a summer business in Kennebunkport off of people who’ve never worked in a restaurant before.”


Some might look at a seasonal business and assume that it’s easy because they don’t need to stay fully staffed all year, Litster said, but in many cases, that makes it harder. Their window of time is short. Hiring talented, competent people for just eight weeks is hard enough, but then in August, about 90% of the workforce goes back to school.

Meanwhile, September and October in Maine have been busier than ever in the last few years.

So even though Rococo has an excess of applicants now, she’s worried about the next wave of hiring later in the summer, when they’re “scrambling for people.”

“The hiring portion is tricky, but losing that bulk of staff is at the other end of that,” she said.

Norman Patry said hiring is off to a late start this summer after a fair amount of turnover at his two Portland bicycle businesses, Summer Feet, which offers tours, and EnCYCLEpedia, a rental company.

He’s looking to bring on five or six people. When fully staffed, the two businesses have about 20 employees.


“I have staffing challenges every year,” Patry said.

Ideally, he’d run the bike rental company from Memorial Day through Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but he likely won’t open until mid-June, and the business will shorten hours from Labor Day until it closes in mid-October.

For the bike tours, Patry said his options are even more limited because he doesn’t hire college students. They go back to school in August, and the tours run until October.

But despite a smaller hiring pool, Patry said he’s been pleased to see a number of qualified applicants this year, and he was buoyed by a promising Memorial Day weekend.

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